Hopefully you've joined us on this journey that is 2015 #LaxWeek. You've remembered the 2014 season's massive roller-coaster ride. You've shuddered in terror at the strength of ACC lacrosse play. You've salivated at the potential potency of Virginia's attack and midfield lines, but then groaned when you looked at the dearth of depth on defense. You've wondered about what we should expect between the pipes and at the faceoff X.
But now it's time to put it all together. What does the 2015 season look like for our beloved Hoos?
No question it's going to be tough sledding. Eight of Virginia's 13 opponents are ranked in the preseason top-20. We play three top-10 opponents on top of the searing hot ACC schedule. All with an unproven defense and an attack that will need to reestablish its offensive identity.
Below we break down each game on the Hoos' schedule and make a call about how they should turn out. Spoiler alert: Shield your eyes.
@ Loyola Maryland (Sat., Feb. 7th): The Greyhounds were tapped to top the Patriot League in 2015—despite losing the conference's 2014 Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year. With an offense led by all-conference attack Nikko Pontrello and a defense anchored by Pat Frazier, the Greyhounds are going to be a tough out on anyone's schedule. Last year's tilt was an epic season-opener at Klockner. My best bet? In 2015, Loyola gets revenge at home by exploiting Virginia's youth in the early stages of the season. Loyola 16, Virginia 12.
Drexel (Sat., Feb. 14th): In what should be the first under-the-lights game of 2015, Virginia will open its home slate against the Drexel Dragons. Drexel is ranked outside the top ten but poses an upset danger thanks to face-off specialist Nick Saputo. Saputo burned the Cavaliers by winning 19 of his 25 face-offs in last year's game. Despite that advantage, Virginia held on to win by one goal—as it had the two previous games against Drexel as well. It's hard to imagine the face-off advantage tilting any further in Drexel's favor, even with Mick Parks off the Virginia squad. Saputo keeps the Dragons in it til the end but Virginia rights the ship. Virginia 14, Drexel 13.
@ Rutgers (Sat., Feb. 21st): Last year, Rutgers made the conference tournament for the first time in 10 years. They also gave up 19 goals when they came to Klockner. Preseason All-American middie Joe Nardella will be the main focus of the Scarlet Knights' offense in 2015, but I doubt they have enough defense to slow down the Hoos. Virginia 15, Rutgers 10.
@ Syracuse (Sun., March 1st): Going into the Carrier Dome and coming out with a win is never an easy task. Whether it's the noise, the turf, the sightlines, or just the Orange's talent, Syracuse wins at home more than 86 percent of the time. Virginia has fared better than most in the frozen north country, trailing Syracuse at the Dome by only one game (5–4). But Nicky Galasso is back. MLL draftee Hakeem Lecky is still an electric player. In the end, Desko & Co. close the all-time series deficit with Virginia to one game. Syracuse 16, Virginia 13.
Cornell (Sat., March 7th): Loaded. That's the only way to describe Cornell in 2015. The Big Red boast probably first-team All-Americans at attack (Matt Donovan), midfield (Connor Buczek), and defense (Jordan Stevens). Their starting goalie had a .542 save percentage last year—as a freshman. Unless Virginia can win the face-off battle decisively, there aren't many weak spots to exploit. On a short week, I don't see the Hoos pulling this one out. Cornell 16, Virginia 11.
St. Joseph's (Tues., March 10th): A mid-week palate cleanser. The Hawks were 11-4 in 2014 but against a pretty soft schedule. A double overtime loss to Hobart in the NEC championship game quashed the Hawks' postseason hopes. St. Joe's plays at a slower pace, which emphasize the need for Virginia's offense to make the most of the chances it gets. Ultimately the Hoos do enough under the Klockner lights to get back to .500. Virginia 13, St. Joe's 9.
Notre Dame (Sat., March 14th): No two ways around it—Notre Dame spanked the Hoos in 2014. And pretty much everyone is back. The Irish will have done the trek out to play top-ranked Denver the week before, a trip that could shift some advantage to Virginia. But probably not enough. The Hoos keep it closer but fall to 0-2 in conference play. Notre Dame 16, Virginia 12.
@ Johns Hopkins (Sat., March 21st): Another rematch of a 2014 overtime thriller. Surprise, surprise: A Stanwick will be playing in a Hopkins-Virginia game. Wells leads the Blue Jays as they enter 2015 ranked fifth and picked to win the Big Ten (ahead of in-state rival Maryland). Despite coach Dave Pietramala's defensive bona fides, this Hopkins team will win or lose with its offense. In 2015, against Virginia, that offense should be enough to take back the Doyle Smith Cup. JHU 17, Virginia 14.
@ VMI (Tues., March 24th): Um. No. Virginia 21, VMI 8.
Richmond (Sat., March 28th): The upstart Spiders put a scare into Virginia last year, roaring back to nearly pull out a win in the program's first-ever game. Richmond notched two upsets in the Atlantic Sun tournament to snag an AQ bid into the NCAAs before falling at Air Force. Look for the new kids on the block to keep improving. By this point in the season, though, Virginia's young players will have developed more experience—at least enough to come out on top. Virginia 15, Richmond 11.
North Carolina (Fri., April 3rd): As the Stanwicks are to Hopkins, so are the Bitters to the Heels. Senior attack Jimmy Bitter will lead the baby blue with help from Joey Sankey and freshman phenom Jordan Prysko. Kieran Burke returns to hold things down in the cage. Carolina also added a freshman named Justin Anderson, which just makes me mad. UNC puts the nail in Virginia's ACC tournament hopes. UNC 15, Virginia 13.
@ Duke (Sun., April 12th): No team has been more vexing to Virginia over the past six years than those damned Blue Devils. Duke will have to figure out how to replace Jordan Wolf's scoring, but coach John Danowski has them up to the task every year. Duke has made it to the NCAA semifinals each season under Danowski and won three national titles. While losing Wolf will slow them down, Myles Jones and Deemer Class will step into the void. Duke 14, Virginia 12.
Georgetown (Sat., April 18th): The Hoyas were, quite frankly, abysmal last year, finishing with one win in the Big East and only four for the entire season. Sophomore middie Peter Conley will be the experienced hand controlling the Hoyas' offense, which will also rely very heavily on freshmen and transfers. While Georgetown was picked to finish second in their conference behind only Denver, they'll finish second in this game as Virginia sends the seniors out in winning fashion. Virginia 15, Georgetown 11.
If you're playing along at home, these predictions put Virginia at 6-7 overall and an appalling 0-4 in the ACC. I have never wanted so desperately to be wrong about something in my life. Here's hoping that young talent gels quickly and the Hoos find their feet faster than I fear it will take them.