When a program captured five national championships – most recently in 2011 – it’s almost impossible to be ignored. But that’s how Virginia has been feeling this season.
Despite a 5-1 record, the No. 13 Cavaliers have been coasting through February and March without much media scrutiny or fanfare. And that doesn’t bother coach Dom Starsia one bit.
“This is a year in which we’re better served to be able to work on ourselves for a while before we step out,” he said Friday morning. “I think we have been a little bit under the radar. We were ranked a little lower in the preseason than we have been based on our graduation losses, and that’s fair. I had no issue with that. Our players were sort of saying, ‘Nobody respects us!’ I said, ‘Calm down, boys, ok?’ But we have felt like this is a little quieter of a preseason than it is when we’re No 1 or No. 2 – sort of where we’ve been the last two years. And so it has given us a chance to catch our breath and collect ourselves a little bit as we go along here. We’re about to get into that slate of games – Cornell, Ohio State, Hopkins, Maryland, Duke, Carolina. So I think we have been a little bit under the radar, and that’s fine with us.”
As Starsia pointed out, this Virginia squad bears little resemblance to the 2011 titlist that was powered by 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner and attackman Steele Stanwick, attackman Chris Bocklet and midfielder Colin Briggs. That trio helped the 2012 team reach the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, but Starsia said he has enjoyed working with the current squad.
“I would tell you that we’re further along than I thought we would be, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “In 2011 – borne out of necessity than anything else – we played a more deliberate style on offense than what Virginia’s reputation was, whatever that meant. In the two-man game, every ball went to Steele, and in 2012, we still continued at that pace. It was hard not to give the ball to Steele all the time. And I’m not in any way criticizing Steele because I would take him back in a heartbeat. But we became a little bit slower team on team, a little bit more deliberate team on offense. So without him, we’ve encouraged the guys to shoot more, to create quicker, to get to it and stuff. I think we shot 37 times a game last year. This year, I told the kids in the winter time that our goal is to shoot 45 times a game and to increase our goals scored and our shots per game. Through the first four or five games, we were averaging 55 shots a game. Now it’s come down a little bit [to 50.3], but still, we’ve been able to do that. It remains to be seen whether we’ll be able to maintain that as we get into the schedule where we’re playing that are as athletic or even more athletic than us.”
The Cavaliers have been paced by a pair of junior attackmen in Mark Cockerton (20 goals and two assists) and Nick O’Reilly (7, 14), but their first midfield of senior Matt White (12, 5), junior Rob Emery (10, 5) and sophomore Ryan Tucker (7, 1) rank second, second and fourth, respectively, in shots taken. Starsia knows that scoring at a rate of 27.2 percent needs to improve.
“[W]e’re a team that isn’t shooting it efficiently right now, and that’s problematic,” he said. “We just need to keep improving in that area. Being more of a midfield-shooting team than we were a year ago, I always compare it to a three-point shooting team in basketball. If you live by that sword, you’ve got to be prepared to die by that sword. So we need to become a little more efficient shooting the ball, but we’re shooting it more, and we get up and down the field. So offensively, we’re a little bit ahead of where I thought we would be.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun