With just three days until Virginia opens the 2016 season with a home game against Loyola in frigid Charlottesville, we are almost done with our season previews. So far, we've told you all about the offense, midfield, defense, and first years, recapped the 2015 season, and chatted with Inside Lacrosse's Terry Foy. Today, we finish of our unit previews with a look at all of the team's specialists, to include goalie, long stick midfielders (LSM), short stick defensive midfielders (SSDM), and face offs. Tomorrow and Friday, we will close out the week with a look at the ACC, our season predictions, and the Loyola game preview.
Matt Barrett - Barrett is a monster. Now a third year, he is returning after a sophomore season that saw him earn top spot and eighth nationally with 12.2 saves per game. His 183 saves last season are good for sixth in Virginia history for saves in a season. Barrett was named to the All-ACC team, and was a USILA second team All-American.
Most impressive about all of this? He spent most of his time getting shelled by top competition. Virginia's defense was inexperienced last season, starting two first years and a walk-on senior. Barrett had 20 saves on the road at No.2 Syracuse, then followed that performance with 21 saves against No.8 Cornell a week later. With a more experienced defense that brings back All-American Tanner Scales, one can reasonably expect the number of shots Barrett faces to decrease, as well as the quality of shot.
Will McNamara - McNamara played in all 15 games for the Hoos last season, contributing 23 ground ball pickups, 11 caused turnovers, and two goals. This year, expect to see him stay on the field for some offensive sets as well. McNamara was the No.1 midfielder and No.3 overall recruit coming into Virginia in 2013, but after a redshirt year (hip injury) and a year in which he was not enrolled at the University for personal issues, he is beginning to hit his stride. Coach Starsia recently, on a podcast with Jeff White, compared McNamara to former Virginia midfielder (and walk-on basketball player!) Billy Glading. Virginia lacrosse fans will know that is a huge compliment as Glading was a huge contributor for the Hoos on both ends of the field.
Jack Falk - No, not Jack Salt, although he's one of the biggest SSDMs on the roster. Falk, a 6-2, 205 pound second year out of Washington, DC, brings physicality to the defense. He's quick and has good body positioning. He had 12 ground balls and three caused turnovers as a first year, and made the ACC Academic Honor Roll.
Carlson Milikin - Milikin, now a third year, collected 14 ground balls and caused seven turnovers to go with his one goal and one assist last season. He's a smart player, and at 6-1, 195, he can hold his own. This trio of SSDMs has more size than in recent years with (outstanding) players like Bobby Hill and Pat Harbeson, and they integrate well into the defensive unit.
Michael Howard - Howard is unlike any other player you will see this season. He's 6-5, 220 pounds of brute strength paired with surprising agility. With 50 ground balls on the season last year, he's an absolute vacuum. He spends a lot of burn on the wings for face offs, and also started three games at close defense for the Wahoos. He's able to pick up attackmen, including the bigger guys like Notre Dame's Sergio Perkovic, or can body Duke's superstar midfielder Myles Jones. Howard also caused 17 turnovers last season. He will be a huge piece for the Wahoos.
Jason Murphy - The Cavaliers have struggled mightily from the face off X in recent history. Murphy will be the primary guy for the Hoos, splitting with Jeff Kratky. Last season, Murphy won 50.5% of his attempts, going 109-of-216. Face off play will be crucial again this season as lack of possession hurt the Hoos significantly last year (see: Syracuse).