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Virginia Lacrosse 2014: Looking Back

Success, failure, or somewhere in between, the 2014 season gave us plenty of ups and downs

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

So here we are. The stage is set for college lacrosse's biggest weekend, and our Virginia men are out here in the audience with the rest of us. While preseason expectations weren't through the roof for this team, we're Virginia. We expect to watch the orange and blue (the good kind) fighting it out over Memorial Day weekend.

But regardless of the outcome, it was one helluva ride.

The first game of the year may well have been the best. In a battle of top-15 teams, the Hoos hosted Loyola at Klockner Stadium. A tight 4–4 affair looked to have turned into a total Wahoo romp on the strength of 8 unanswered U.Va. goals. But the Greyhounds responded with a nine-goal run of their own, all in the fourth quarter. With 17 seconds left, Virginia was staring a 13–12 loss in the face. One Mick Parks faceoff win, to a James Pannell feed, to a Ryan Tucker heater, and the score was 13 all—with 0 seconds left on the clock. The momentum carried into the extra period, with Parks winning the face again and the Hoos controlling possession until winning it on a James Pannell shot that trickled in. One game down, one win along with it.

One-goal margins of victory turned into an early season trend. A road trip to Richmond for the Spiders' first-ever Division I game ended with another Virginia win, but the 13–12 score line was reason to worry. Same for an 11–10 victory at Drexel: win's a win's a win, but three by a combined three goals?

Just when we thought it would be a season worth stocking up on Tums, Rutgers came to Charlottesville. And a visit from the Scarlet Knights is good for what ails ya. Virginia tallied 19 goals—its second highest offensive output of the season—to romp past the Piscataway visitors. Tucker with five goals, and Mark Cockerton with seven points, led the onslaught.

After another win at Mount St. Mary's, the Hoos stood at 5–0 headed into the annual showdown with Syracuse. With all five wins coming in underwhelming fashion, or against underwhelming opponents, the first conference clash between the Cavaliers and Orange was set to be a true barometer. Seven goals from James Pannell capped one of the more incredible days in Virginia athletics, with a lacrosse win chaser to follow the shot of basketball victory.

Headed into the teeth of its schedule, the Cavs stood undefeated. Six and oh. The #2 team in the country. Birds were singing, the grass was green (under twelve feet of polar vortex-induced snow, but whatever)—all was right with the world.

But a road trip to Cornell and the always-tough Big Red brought expectations back toward earth. Cockerton's three goals weren't enough for Virginia, and the Hoos left Ithaca with the team's first loss of the year. The next week ... well we'd all like to pretend the next week didn't happen from a lacrosse standpoint. In a game that was moved inside due to weather in South Bend, Notre Dame handed Virginia its lunch. The 18–9 loss was arguably the ugliest of the entire season—but thankfully overshadowed by the hoops fireworks in Greensboro.

Virginia bounced back to keep its home record intact, beating the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays 11–10 in—shocker—overtime. Greg Coholan's three goals included the overtime gamewinner and led all Hoos. Freshman Ryan Lukacovic showed flashes of offensive promise, tallying two goals as well. With the next home game coming against VMI, there was no problem keeping the blemishes off the Klockner games.

Unfortunately the ACC road record never improved. Consecutive losses at Maryland and North Carolina-Chapel Hill put the Hoos in quite the bind. With Duke coming to town April 11, Virginia needed a win against the Blue Devils to keep open a shot at the ACC Championship in the newly reformatted ACC Tournament. But has so often been the case over the past few years, Duke had the Hoos' number. With a 17–15 loss, the Hoos finished the first season in the new-look ACC at 1–4.

A 12–8 tune-up win against Bellarmine gave Virginia momentum going into the ACC Showcase rematch with Carolina. As was the theme of the year, it took a fourth-quarter run to decide the game; this time, the Hoos were again on the good side of that run. The Tar Heels took a one-goal lead into the fourth quarter. But Mark Cockerton was having none of that, and had a hand in all three goals—assisting two, scoring one—to propel Virginia to victory.

The win secured a seed line in the NCAA Tournament, and a home game in the first round. With the wackiness that was the 2014 season, that home game brought a rematch with Johns Hopkins. There was no shortage of "what's the world coming to" that a first-round NCAA matchup could pit against one another two teams with a combined 14 NCAA titles. But such was the draw. This time, Hopkins got revenge. With a 14–8 loss, Virginia's season was over almost before May had begun.

Virginia ended its season with a 10–6 record: 6–2 at home, 3–4 on the road, with another win coming on a neutral field. Three of the six losses came to teams playing in the Final Four: Duke, Notre Dame, and Maryland. Senior Mark Cockerton led all U.Va. scorers with 63 points (47 goals, 16 assists). Junior Owen Van Arsdale led the team in assists with 27. Faceoff specialist Mick Parks finished on the plus side of the ledger, winning just over 51 percent of his draws. Freshman goalie Matt Barrett started all 16 games, and broke Tillman Johnson's freshman saves record.

In the coming days, we'll take a more in-depth look back at the season that was and a (way too early) look forward to the season that could be in 2015. But for now, consider this: We are led by the winningest coach in the history of Division I men's lacrosse. We routinely bring in recruits who are among the most coveted in the entire country. What counts as a reasonable expectation—year in, year out—is for Virginia lacrosse to be playing as one of the best four teams in the country. Even if one were inclined to consider the 2014 season a disappointment, it's only because the program's past success has set the bar so high. No team should rest on its laurels, but the foundation is there for continued success into the future.