Woo-hoo, I partook in the annual ritual of watching the no-defense festival that is the annual loss to Duke on the lacrosse field. Well, I take it back somewhat: not every game against them is completely without defense. We never play it, but sometimes Duke does. Sometimes we lose by a lot and sometimes by a little, but one thing is usually a given: Duke will wear out the netting, usually around 15 times. The last time there was a low-scoring affair against those guys: 2007, a 7-6 loss for us.
This happened to be one of those days where UVA could keep pace somewhat. UVA has been in the game in every one of its losses but the Notre Dame one; even more interesting, we've been able to play any kind of game the opponent wants. Defensive slugfest? Sure. Shootout? Sure. And therein, I think, lies part of the problem. When have we seen UVA impose its will on the other team? Only in games against much lesser opposition, and even then you saw problems against Rutgers and Richmond, to name a few.
Goalie play took a dump, of course, which didn't help. I was surprised to see that Duke's Luke Aaron failed to reach a .500 save percentage, because it seemed like he was saving basically everything, which may have been only in comparison to our own goalies, who saved nothing. That's "goalies" because Matt Barrett got yanked for Dan Marino, who was just as bad.
I'm not prepared to guarantee UVA will make the NCAA tournament because I'm not prepared to guarantee this team can beat Bellarmine; they absolutely should and I think they will, but the flaws are such that you just never know. How often do they look like they know what they're doing? I'd say, not much. The offense doesn't know whether to be patient or to run'n'shoot; the defense doesn't know whether to sit back or be aggressive, and they try all of them at various times and don't get consistent results. The coaches have tried all they can think of to win faceoffs and have resorted to an apparently random pattern of choosing the ineffective short stick or the ineffective long stick. Likewise they can't decide who should run the offense from the X; they don't seem to have confidence in either Owen van Arsdale or Ryan Lukacovic, and have equally inconsistent substitution patterns there as well, to say nothing of the midfield. The whole operation stinks of throwing crap against the wall just to see what sticks.
I don't think this season is a total loss. Any time you beat Hopkins and Syracuse you've succeeded at a portion of the goals that UVA lacrosse sets out to accomplish. Then again, any time you lose to Maryland, UNC, and Duke, and get to mid-April not 100% sure about making the NCAA tournament, not to mention not even playing in the ACC one, you've fallen short of quite a few others. The atmosphere around the program is starting to look like the one around Debbie Ryan's hoops program a couple years before her resignation. When a respected Sabre poster lets loose on the coaching staff and program with cannons blazing like this and this, and is not told out of hand to stuff it, you can tell the cracks are appearing.
I link those epistles for you, and even find them well-reasoned, but I don't (yet) fully endorse them. I'm painfully aware this is the worst two-year stretch for UVA lacrosse in quite some time, but I'm also painfully aware of what happens when fans let expectations run too wild, revolt, and accelerate the downward spiral. Tennessee boosters pitched Phil Fulmer overboard because they were tired of Outback Bowl seasons and he had the audacity to go 5-7 that one time, and in the five years since they've won 7, 6, 5, 5, and 5 games. People around here got tired of Debbie Ryan because we didn't win enough in the ACC and didn't go far enough in the NCAAs, and Joanne Boyle has only managed to spin her wheels at best. Is Dom Starsia getting lazy at recruiting and allowing the program to get bogged down in the mud? Maybe. Are we capable of screwing this up by running him off and spending six winless years in the ACC? More than.
-- It's amazing how a shutout can feel like anything but a dominant pitching performance. Brandon Waddell combined with Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard to hold Clemson entirely scoreless on Sunday and take the series, and yet it sure had none of the feeling of the same result a week prior. Waddell was dominant against Pitt, and forever walking the edge against Clemson. Much better team this week, yes. And honestly, a pitching coach will be at least as happy, if not happier, to see his charges battle back against multiple basepath incursions, than to see them breeze through with little trouble. The Pitt shutout showed a lot of ability; the Clemson shutout showed ability and character.
Miami managed to sweep the same Pitt team that we took only two of three from, however, and thus UVA finds itself tied atop the division. This means less than it did last year, though, now that the ACC tournament has moved away from pool play and to a basic double-elimination format. The 1 and 2 seeds used to get their choice of game times, and that mattered much more then.
-- If this doesn't impress you or do anything for you at all, you're in the wrong place. How about the ACC all-sport record for most consecutive conference wins? Men's tennis brought that distinction to UVA by winning its 117th straight conference match - counting both regular season and tournament play, meaning, NCAA tournament as well. 117 straight wins against ACC foes, no matter when or where the competition. That's a mark that, if it's ever topped by anyone, will take a good ten years to achieve, minimum. (Though I haven't checked to see if anyone anywhere is working on a streak of like 70 or so right now, which is possible but not real likely.)
-- I wouldn't have bothered watching the spring football game even if it had been on, honestly. It just doesn't excite me; for one, because the affair is never a real game; two, because you can never really tell whether one side's dominance is a good thing or a bad thing and therefore the thing is not all that instructive; three, because 2-10. (#1 is that way because coaches are always concerned about injuries and depth - there's no way we could've put together two full teams' worth of O-linemen - but it's also easily fixed such that my attention could be restored. Play a full speed 7-on-7 game. Problem solved. Injury risk is minimized and fans get something to watch.)
However, Jeff White's article answered the one question we all want to know, even if Mike London is still playing coy. Greyson Lambert, besides being voted a team captain, threw 31 passes while Matt Johns threw 19 and David Watford just 14. I leave you to draw your own conclusion, with every confidence you'll decide the same as I did.