UVa.'s 11 seniors leave on top, but '07 cupboard isn't bare


PHILADELPHIA -- Virginia senior defenseman Michael Culver had just concluded his last great day's work as a collegiate lacrosse player by doing the improbable in the NCAA championship game.

For the first time in 35 games, Massachusetts senior attackman Sean Morris came up empty as a goal scorer, largely because of the way Culver denied him the ball and shut down any chance for Morris to get into shooting position. One first-team All-American having his way with the other.

Culver said it was up to him and other seniors to lead the way, to finish off a perfect 17-0 season - the best in Division I history - and to deliver Virginia its third NCAA crown under 14th-year coach Dom Starsia, and the fourth in school history.

And after Virginia scored six unanswered second-half goals to blow open a tight game and finish a 15-7 rout at Lincoln Financial Field, Culver said he expected the younger players to continue the work he and the rest of this 11-man senior class had begun. Three years after being part of a championship as freshmen, Culver and the rest of the seniors had done it again.

"We knew UMass wasn't going to just hand us the trophy, just like we knew our best players had to play really well," said Culver, alluding to five-goal performances by senior attackman Matt Ward and senior midfielder Matt Poskay.

Ward matched his career high and earned the tournament Most Outstanding Player award. Poskay achieved a career high. Seniors scored 12 of Virginia's 15 goals.

"I talked to a lot of first-year guys [after the game] and told them this is the start of something," Culver said. "Let's leave a real legacy for Virginia lacrosse. Let's not have this be the end of something."

Don't count on that happening. After rolling to the 13th perfect finish in Division I history, the Cavaliers lose a lot, but return more than enough to suggest Virginia should be playing at M&T; Bank Stadium in next year's final four.

Three of the team's top five scorers from the nation's highest-scoring team will return. Sophomore Ben Rubeor, and freshmen Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, who combined for 90 goals and 58 assists, could form the starting attack.

Junior Ricky Smith and freshmen Mike Timms and Matt Kelly return on defense, as does junior goalie Kip Turner. Junior Drew Thompson, equally valuable with the first midfield and facing off, will be back, as will sophomore defensive midfielder Will Barrow. Solid backups such as freshman midfielder Steve Giannone and freshman attackman Gavin Gill will move up in the rotation.

The Cavaliers might not be able to dominate all over the field quite the way they did throughout 2006, but that doesn't mean the program's third title since 2003 is not attainable. And who knows? Even in this age of increasing parity, maybe a senior class can top the outgoing group and bring home three trophies before they're done in Charlottesville.

Starsia was too busy basking in the present to dwell much on what might happen down the road. Besides contemplating how the Cavaliers earned a trophy without a blemish for the first time in their tournament history, Starsia also reveled in the way Virginia's ride and the surprising run by unseeded UMass put the lingering controversy about the Duke program on the back burner.

"It was such a different spring. You weren't just preoccupied with lacrosse," Starsia said. "I felt we kind of slipped under the radar screen. Nobody was talking about us in April. But we accomplished something quite memorable this spring and hopefully created the kind of impression in the spring of 2006 that we all walk away from this lacrosse season with."

Added Culver: "This entire weekend is a celebration of the sport of lacrosse. I remember watching the Cortland-Salisbury [Division III title] game, being on the edge of my seat the entire time. Watching all of the kids run around Philadelphia with their lacrosse sticks. There's been a lot of negative publicity, unfortunately. But in the end, it's a terrific game."


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