Despite being a perennial favorite to capture the NCAA championship, Virginia has fallen short of that objective in each of the last four seasons.

There's a theory that the Cavaliers' inability to reach the NCAA Tournament final in the last two years can be linked to the emotional weight of enduring the deaths of former midfielder Will Barrow in 2008, media relations assistant Michael Colley in 2009 and women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love in May.


Virginia coach Dom Starsia conceded that the tragedies have taken a toll on the program.

"Throughout these past few years, I have found myself startled by how emotional college boys can be and how vulnerable they can seem at times," Starsia said Wednesday. "And at the same time, I'm stunned at how resilient they can be. They can bounce back and kind of get back to work. If you asked me, 'How do you get over the loss to Duke in the playoffs last year and what does that do to you?' my answer would be, it's a part of who we are. [The tragedies are] part of the fabric of who we are. We have to factor it in and move forward, and all of these things that have happened to us is the same. It's part of who we are as people and ultimately as athletes. To be honest with you, I would have a concern about how much gas is left in the emotional tank so to speak. … I think there is some truth to the question, 'Does this team have the emotional wherewithal to kind of persevere through this?' All I can tell you is we're doing the best we can. We lean on each other, we talk to each other, I think we find a little respite out on the practice field every day. So we take advantage of that."

With seven of 10 starters returning from last year's squad that went 16-2 and fell to Duke in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, the Cavaliers are once again one of the teams tabbed to take home the title. Those are lofty expectations, but they come with the territory, Starsia said.

"I think we all understand the expectations that come along with a program like the University of Virginia," he said. "We've created this thing and probably only have ourselves to blame. In the end, it's who we want to be. We want people to have high expectations for our program, and the issue is – in a more philosophical sense – for a lot of the public, there's only a very, very narrow window where we are allowed to define a successful season, and it really is winning the last game. And that's just not going to happen all of the time. I feel like my job is to sort of deflect that away from the players as best I can. There have to be other parts of this journey that are valuable, and if we happen to not to win, we still have to define ourselves as being successful. So I never talk about the national championship, I never talk about the end of the season. At the same time, we want to start every September thinking that we have a chance to be playing on that last weekend, and that's how we sort of prepare ourselves. We can sort of apply that to everything that we do."

Other notes:

*A defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in Division I in average goals per game (8.2) was depleted by graduation. To replace defensemen Ken Clausen and Ryan Nizolek, junior Chris Clements is moving from the midfield and freshman Scott McWilliams, an Under Armour All American, is competing with sophomore Harry Prevas for the third starter's spot. Sophomore Blake Riley and freshman Bobby Hill could get the brunt of the playing time at short-stick defensive midfield with two-way midfielders Rhamel Bratton, Chris LaPierre and Colin Briggs also contributing. "We're going to be younger and newer back there," Starsia acknowledged. "… We've got a four-year senior in the goal [in Adam Ghitelman], so we can draw some comfort from that. And programs like ours always graduate good kids. The question is, how do you pick up the pieces? For us, that's the most obvious question for anyone looking at our team."

*With that in mind, the Cavaliers will lean on the offense to carry the load at the beginning of the season. All three starting attackmen are back, and seniors Shamel and Rhamel Bratton could be paired with senior John Haldy on the first midfield. "We feel like we're experienced and athletic at the offensive end and we may have to score some more goals early on in the season while a young, new defense kind of gets their defense on the ground," Starsia said.