Sporting weapons such as outstanding playmaker Conor Gill and consummate finishers such as attackman Drew McKnight and midfielder Jay Jalbert, the Cavaliers begin the postseason defense of their national title in the quarterfinals against Duke today at Homewood Field.
In a game that shapes up as a battle of tempo between two familiar Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, Virginia hopes to shake off the rust that might show after nearly three weeks without a game."It's an issue. These kids are used to playing, and it's a long time to be sitting around and waiting," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, whose team received a first-round bye and has not played in 19 days."In theory, you might think Duke benefited from playing in a playoff game last week. We're anxious to get to it."
Duke is coming off its most impressive effort of the year, a 13-1 drubbing of Hobart in which the Blue Devils (11-4) spread their scoring among eight players and got a career-high 22 saves from goalie Matt Breslin. The Statesmen actually outshot Duke, 44-34.
The Blue Devils also know Virginia too well to be intimidated. History suggests this will be a grinding, relatively low-scoring affair with lots of physical contact and the faceoff men playing a major role. It also suggests that Virginia will find a way to win.
Virginia has won seven of the past eight meetings with Duke, with three of those by one or two goals, all since 1998. The Blue Devils took a 10-9 decision during the regular season last year."We can't let [Virginia] turn this into a track meet. We're much better served in an 8-7 game than a 17-16 game," Duke coach Mike Pressler said. "Whoever has the ball more will go a long way toward determining who wins. This will be two big, physical teams going after each other."
Duke will rely heavily on faceoff specialist Scott Bross to counter Virginia's excellent tandem of Jason Hard and David Jenkins and keep the Cavaliers from going on an offensive run.
Defensemen such as All-American Stephen Card will need to be at the top of their games to contain a Cavaliers offense that has scored 179 goals during its 12-game winning streak.
The most underrated unit taking the field will be Virginia's defense, led by All-American Ryan Curtis, who is the son of former Baltimore Colts middle linebacker Mike Curtis.
Virginia has allowed more than eight goals on only two occasions. That might be tough against the likes of attackmen Jared Frood and T.J. Durnan and midfielders Nick Hartofilis.
Derek Kenney, Virginia's sometimes-maligned goalie, might not have the most glittering save percentage (.526), but he has allowed only 6.96 goals per game."If we're going to win this game, clearly we're going to have to do it at the defensive middle of the field. You just don't pull away from Duke," Starsia said."They faceoff well, and they can hold the ball. We've got respect for them."