Wednesday, June 8, 2011

what about next year?

If you're anything like me, you enjoyed seeing the lacrosse team win a national title and you'd like to see it again next year.  Sure would be nice, anyway.  Let's see what next year holds and where the holes are.  This is really something that belongs more in the preseason - like, February - but we've still got the title run fresh in our minds and February's usually full of basketball stuff anyway.  So, here we are with next season's outlook. These are the departing seniors and what they brought to the table:

- Rhamel Bratton: Sort of doesn't count because the Brattons were already departed by the time the second season began.  Rhamel was a better defender than Shamel and had good defensive instincts.  One of the best short-stick defenders on the team, and of course, brought plenty of scoring punch.

- Shamel Bratton: Shamel was the most purely athletic guy we've had on our lacrosse field maybe ever.  Losing him and Rhamel brought the team's athleticism level way down, but only to where it was only somewhat better than most teams instead of ridiculously better.  But you saw the Ewing Theory in full swing when they left.  Again, I sort of hesitate to include them because we already saw, in the tournament, what life was like without them, and it wasn't as scary as we maybe thought.

- Todd Faiella: Our semi-regular Ivy League grad school transfer, but didn't see the field except during blowouts, even as thin as the defense was.

- Adam Ghitelman: Only the winningest goaltender in UVA history.  Four years of absolutely outstanding goalie play, culminating in a tremendously well-deserved national championship and a place in the history books as the third-winningest Division I goalie of all-time.  Ghitelman was very good at that stopping shots thing, but it was outside the crease that he really shined.  He was part of the reason the UVA clearing game is elite-level stuff; almost always made the perfect outlet pass and sometimes took it upon himself to personally clear the ball.  Lacrosse goalies do a lot more wandering than you'd expect if you're used to hockey goalies; Ghitelman did a lot more wandering than you'd expect even if you're used to lacrosse goalies.  Ghitelman actually found his way onto the scoresheet last year with a goal.  This is far and away the biggest on-field hole we'll have to plug, but even more than that I'm really going to miss Adam's Adventures, miles from the crease.

- John Haldy: Haldy's skills as an offensive midfielder are respectable but not at all irreplaceable, but he and Bray Malphrus made a great good-cop/bad-cop leadership tandem this year.  Haldy was the laid-back foil to Malphrus's occasional bouts of competitive maniacism.  With 7 goals and 8 assists, Haldy is the leading non-Bratton scorer we lose, which says a ton about the returning talent.

- Garrett Ince: Turns out that Ince was technically the best faceoff guy on the team, with a .510 percentage.  Ince was a FOGO guy: face off, get off, except for when he surprised UVA fans by showing up on the extra-man unit a few times.  Faceoffs ended up split almost perfectly evenly between Ince, Ryan Benincasa, and Brian McDermott, but Ince took slightly more than the other two and was a little more successful, too.  Was fun to see the face-off specialist score a goal in the final regular season game against Penn.

- Bray Malphrus: Whatever screw in your head is required to be loose to make you want to join the Marines or Special Forces or something, Malphrus has it.  Fierce, fierce competitor; another reason the national championship was so fun was seeing Malphrus's insane work ethic rewarded.  Malphrus started the season the same way he had all the other ones: at long-stick midfield, but the hole he leaves is on defense, where he moved after Matt Lovejoy's injury.  Malphrus was unsurprisingly the most-penalized player on the team, so losing him might mean a few less extra-man opps for the opponents, but I don't recall too many penalties out of him late in the season.

- Brian McDermott: Technically the worst of the faceoff triumvirate at .489, but that's hardly fair since it was so close and everyone in the group ran hot and cold all season.  Losing McDermott and Ince means just one experienced faceoff man on the roster.

And now, in the classic style, here we go position by position:

- Attack: We start with the best news: as usual at UVA, there's an embarrassment of riches here.  Tewaaraton winner Steele Stanwick is a given, as is his finisher, Chris Bocklet, both of whom will be seniors.  Matt White is probably the other attackman, but Nick O'Reilly (despite being listed at midfield) looked awesome during the last three tournament games.  He played so well in his hometown cameo on Long Island that he simply couldn't be taken off the field in Baltimore; in fact, his passes were so sharp he had the announcers occasionally confusing him with Stanwick.

It'll also be hard to keep Mark Cockerton off the field.  Cockerton is a rising sophomore who looked darn good at times his freshman year, especially later on.  And speaking of freshmen, you know UVA always pulls in a quality recruiting class; Under Armour All-American Taylor Michel is one of them.  With no senior attackmen leaving the team this summer, it'll be interesting to see how the minutes get divvied out, but you can be sure enough that there'll never, ever be anything less than outstanding players on the field.

- Offensive midfield: After the Brattons left, the first unit settled out as Haldy, Colin Briggs, and outstanding freshman Rob Emery.  Who fills Haldy's spot?  Perhaps Cockerton, who moved to midfield from attack late in the year, accounting for his presence on the field in most games.  Matt Kugler and Pat Harbeson will be the incumbents on the second line, but they'll have to watch out because midfield is where the incoming freshman class is the strongest.  Ryan Tucker and Carl Walrath are probably the biggest threats to do as Emery did and jump right into the starting lineup as freshmen.  The Brattons' problems, and then the Briggs suspension for the Denver game, forced the midfield to cannibalize the attack for some bodies, but unless you count Cockerton, that shouldn't be a thing next year.

- Defensive midfield: No holes here.  Chris LaPierre is still MF'in Chris LaPierre, the human clear, and Blake Riley came on very strong at the end of the year.  That's your starting short-stick lineup there; Chris Clements will probably keep his long pole and stay on as the long-stick middie.  Only thing that changes that would be if Clements gets pulled back to defense to fill a hole a la Malphrus, but let's hope that's not necessary.  The question is depth; who comes after these guys?  I have no idea whatsoever.

- Defense: By the end of the season that was Malphrus, Harry Prevas, and freshman Scott McWilliams.  The latter two seem to be coming along nicely and developing into quality players, so hopefully Matt Lovejoy will be back 100% and the lineup will be solid again.  There's still some legitimate questions about how well these guys can play one-on-one, though; hopefully they'll add that skill as they level up in the offseason.  Again, I have no idea where the depth is gonna come from.  Wyatt Melzer is a possibility as a backup, but he may also get some time at long-stick middie.  There are clearly a few players on the roster that the coaching staff doesn't want to have to use, so there ought to be an opening for incoming freshman Greg Danseglio to impress.

- Goalie: With Ghitelman gone, we'll have to make our first change in net in four years.  Rob Fortunato is the front-runner - he's been a solid backup the past three years and played well against Drexel when Ghitelman was suspended.  He'll get first crack for sure.  Next up should Fortunato not be ready for prime time is probably Austin Geisler.  Conor McGee, a transfer from Michigan, almost certainly is not an option.

- Faceoffs: No, Ryan Benincasa is probably not the full-time faceoff answer.  LaPierre took a few faceoffs this year and didn't do all that well, but I'd like to see how that might go next year.  Another possibility: rising sophomore Tom Kelly, who was a very successful faceoff man in high school and was the only player besides the Triumvirate and LaPierre to take one this year.  I think you'll see Kelly as Benincasa's primary competition here.

Next year's preseason should look a lot like this season, minus the "can the bestest recruiting class ever finally win a title?" story line.  Because of the loaded offense and Steele Stanwick, and because of the name on the front of the jersey, UVA will be a clearcut frontrunner.  And I'll be sitting here like I did before this season worrying about the defense.  Nevertheless, it'll be fun being defending champions again, though there'll be a target on everyone's back that goes along with it.  Now if we can only get the schedulers to work on a home-and-home with the new program at Michigan, I'll be all set.

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