Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 lacrosse preview

You've seen what they're up against.  Now, for the second part of the spring sports preview, it's time to see what weapons the lacrosse team brings to the fight.

Most of what people think about UVA focuses on what they lost, which is understandable when you lose a Tewaaraton Trophy winner (Steele Stanwick) and his goal-sniping sidekick (Chris Bocklet.)  Throw in Colin Briggs and you have UVA's top three scorers from 2012, all graduated.  Toss in a new goalie as well as having to replace the top defenseman and it's pretty understandable that UVA is the consensus fourth-of-four in the ACC.

If there's ever a team that can claim to dispense with the rebuilding in favor of reloading, though, it's Virginia lacrosse.  Expectations are still high because expectations are always high.  Here's what's in store:


Obviously, the biggest holes are Stanwick and Bocklet, so this is where some new faces will be prominent.  Or some semi-new faces gain greater prominence.  Nick O'Reilly is back from a year-long suspension and appears to be Dom Starsia's choice to take Stanwick's old spot at the X, behind the net and quarterbacking the offense.  O'Reilly finished the 2011 season strong, particularly in the NCAA tournament where he had four goals and six assists in three games, and was looking like a major weapon for 2012 before his suspension.  He brings a great deal of playmaking potential to the table.

A lot of fans would like to see Matt White on the attack as well, including myself.  That's where White is listed on the roster, but Starsia seems to like him at midfield.  Me, I like White's ability to play and shoot in a crowd, thus I'd like to see him here.  Mark Cockerton is a near-lock for one of the other attack spots; Cockerton is an accurate shooter who put 80% of his shots on net in 2012.  If White's not playing attack, other options include sophomore Carl Walrath or freshman James Pannell (Rob's little brother), both of whom Dom has spoken quite highly of.  Pannell may not be ready for the start of the season, however.

We also shouldn't forget about Owen Van Arsdale, who came on like gangbusters early in the 2012 season but tailed off a lot as time went on.  His size (only 5'8") makes it hard sometimes for him to clear himself room to shoot, but when he's open he's got very nice catch-and-shoot abilities and a compact, sometimes deceptive shot.  I consider Van Arsdale the wild card in the mix.


Probably the two locks for the first line here are Ryan Tucker and Rob Emery, both very dangerous offensive players that each have a great chance at finding their way to the top of UVA's scoring leaderboard.  Emery opened some eyes his freshman year, and then last year potted 24 goals, which was more than anyone but Stanwick and Bocklet.  Tucker might have the team's hardest shot; he fires some incredible bullets at the net, and his 13 goals as a freshman were just as many as Emery had his freshman year.

If White's a midfielder, obviously he's the third member of the first line.  The top second-line option right now is Bucknell transfer Charlie Streep, who I don't expect to see a lot of time parked on the bench.  Streep had a shoulder injury that cost him his 2012 season, and the Patriot League, like the Ivy, doesn't allow grad students to play, hence the transfer.  So, fittingly, Streep's last real lacrosse game was right here at Klockner in that overtime first-rounder that launched UVA to the national title.  (Also, yes, his aunt is Meryl Streep.)  Streep was a top producer for Bucknell with 28 goals and 9 assists in 2011, so I expect a good season from him, even if he starts it on the second line.

The rest of the second line is going to be up in the air.  Junior Pat Harbeson will get a look, as he's been getting spot duty the last two years on the second line already, and there's a large host of freshmen that Dom has to do some experimenting with.  Nothing is very well set, not even the first line for 100% sure, even if it looks sort of obvious.

Of course there's a major wildcard here, too: Chris LaPierre.  The Shocker.  After three years at defensive midfield as a one-man clearing game, LaPierre gets a chance on offense.  This is partly why I think it's silly to have White at midfield: how do you bench any of LaPierre, Tucker, or Emery?  Being thinner at attack than midfield, I think it'd make perfect sense to move White closer and maybe even Streep to attack too, but whatever.  At any rate, LaPierre's status is also a small mystery, as he (as well as Pannell) sat out the two preseason scrimmages.  Whether he's ready will determine a lot; we'll have to keep in mind that this is Chris LaPierre we're talking about, for whom a leg hanging from its hip by a thread would only increase his desire to run somebody over.


Without LaPierre on this end of the field, the unit is a little thin.  The two short-stick starters look like Bobby Hill and Blake Riley, both very capable players.  Riley missed most of 2012 as well, canceling any plans Starsia might've had to try LaPierre on offense last year.  Like Nick O'Reilly, he was another who made a little name for himself in the 2011 tourney; it was Riley, jumping on a Bucknell midfielder who'd slipped on the grass, who stripped the ball in OT and started the sequence that ended in White's game-winning goal.

Hill and Riley are both solid defenders and good in transition as well; neither is LaPierre, I suppose, but they're perfectly good at what they do.  Hill is a little better at sticking with an opposing midfielder and keeping him in front; Riley is a little faster and plays with more of an edge.  Riley, in fact, managed a rare trifecta of penalties in the G'town scrimmage, having to sit for a full two minutes with crosschecking, pushing, and misconduct fouls all on one play.  It kind of cuts both ways with him.  But this is an area where I really hope we stay injury-free because the proven depth is lacking.

At LSM, Tanner Ottenbreit is the front-runner to see most of the playing time, replacing the steady but graduated Chris Clements.  About the extent of knowledge there is on him is that those who've seen the scrimmages were impressed.


Two of three starters at close-in D return from last year: Harry Prevas and Scott McWilliams.  Last year's first guy off the bench was Greg Danseglio, making him the likely replacement for Matt Lovejoy as the third guy.  There isn't a Ken Clausen in this group, and what we got last season is probably about what we'll see this season, without a major dropoff or improvement.  Solid, but not going to cause any announcers to gush about the matchup between our guys and the opponent's superstar attackman du jour.  McWilliams was named to Inside Lacrosse's preseason all-American third-team, for what it's worth, making him the closest thing we have to some star power on defense.  If you're looking for a freshman who'll make some waves on the field, the likely candidate is Tanner Scales.  Also of note: this is where former footballing defensive end Thompson Brown ended up; it'll be interesting to see if his athleticism can get him onto the field in a useful role.


Austin Geisler's transfer to High Point might've been the best thing that's happened to that program so far in their short history - what it did for UVA was thin out the depth some.  Geisler may have seen some writing on the wall.  At any rate, this is largely a foreign situation for UVA.  Even last year when we had to replace four-year starter Adam Ghitelman, it was basically assumed Rob Fortunato would step in and do just fine.  He stepped in and did just fine.  Now things are more up in the air.   Freshman Dan Marino might have a small edge on sophomore Rhody Heller, but Marino is also making his way back from not one but two broken thumbs in the offseason, so his practice time has been awfully limited.  So you have a choice between a freshman who's barely practiced and a sophomore whose career is limited to 14 minutes and 13 seconds of game time and one save.

Also on the roster are Conor McGee and Matt Robertson, the latter a transfer from Colgate.  Neither has anything under their belts but garbage time and are less of a factor in the race, but not to be entirely counted out given the inexperience of the two leaders.


The only returning FOGO with extensive experience is Mick Parks, who took roughly a third of last year's faceoffs and won 52.6%.  Starsia has used LaPierre there in the past, more so in 2011 than in 2012, but LaPierre's performance suffers from the fact that he doesn't have himself at the wing.  Long-stick Tanner Ottenbreit also took 10 faceoffs in 2012 and may be another secondary option.


Stop me if you've heard this before: 2013 is the setup for 2014, with a good chance to scare some people this year.  The only seniors of major import this year are White, Prevas, and LaPierre (as well as Streep, whose presence this year is basically a bonus) and while the Shocker brings a truly unique brand of athleticism to the table that will be missed, the core of this team is non-seniors.  The ACC, as well as Hopkins, is as tough as ever and it might be a rough ride through the gauntlet, but this team is more than talented enough to semi-comfortably roll to the anything-can-happen NCAA tournament - which, by the way, will be diluted this year with the addition of a new AQ conference in the NEC.  It's never not a fun spring when you have UVA lacrosse to keep you busy on Saturdays, and the multiple possible combinations for offensive firepower should be the prime attraction this year, even minus a certain Steele Stanwick.

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