Dom Starsia's formula for success has never really been a secret. Recruit the most athletic players he can find, emphasize hard work and effort, and give them copious freedom to operate. When it works, it's dynamic and entertaining.
Alas for Starsia's less-talented squads, "play smart" isn't a top priority.
This has been eminently on display the past couple weeks. UVA had three times as many turnovers as goals against UNC, and over twice as many against Duke. When we got a peek into the timeout huddle during the Duke game, I thought Dom might suggest, just once, that a handy trick for winning the game might be to observe the fundamentals of passing and catching. He didn't. He did exhort his team to have an extended possession, which might have been a roundabout way of doing so. They must've decided 30 seconds was extended enough, because about that much game time later Duke was merrily clearing the ball and finding a nice easy path to the goal.
Observing the fundamentals of passing and catching has been awfully damn elusive of late. Simply put, this is some horsecrap sloppy-ass lacrosse they're playing. I'd like to blame it on youth, but there was Owen Van Arsdale lazily reaching toward a lazy pass, and missing. There was Tyler German with a laser focus on reaching the corner of the box to complete a clear and no plan at all upon arriving, coughing up the ball as a result. There was Ryan Tucker dodging his way straight into a double-team and freezing, paralyzed with indecision at the gall of the defenders to be defending.
Of course this team went 0-4 in the ACC; it's unrealistic to expect any wins when the offense, supposedly the highly efficient hallmark of this team, keeps shooting itself in the head. I could deal with it if opposing defenses were taking the ball, or their goalie was putting up a stone wall, but what's really frustrating to watch is when two former weaknesses stop being weaknesses, and the strength of the team suddenly turns into brainless mush.
This team will still make the tournament and will probably host a game. For all its irritating foibles, it's still one of the top eight teams in the country. That's pretty amazing after losing to the whole ACC in ugly fashion, but it's taken really good teams to expose UVA's flaws enough to beat them. I mean, at least we're not Hopkins, which just needed two overtimes to beat 3-8 Penn State. The angst here is rooted in not being much of a national title contender. At least if we're gonna be angsty about lacrosse, it's the right kind of emo.
Notes and stuff:
-- Matt Barrett, man. UVA just wasted two of the best performances by a UVA goalie in I don't even know how long. Very often in lacrosse, good goalie play is indistinguishable from bad goalie play until after the fact. It's not like hockey where a bad goal sticks out like a sore thumb; you just sort of start coming to the realization that your goalie has let in too many shots. If that realization doesn't happen, you've been getting good goalie play. That's what Adam Ghitelman was like. That's not what Matt Barrett has been like; he's made stops goalies have no business making. My personal favorite was having his pass intercepted from a foot and a half away - very bad - then making the save from the same distance - even better.
-- Remember how Matt White kept playing midfield when he should've been playing attack and everyone was all "WHY??" It's almost like having Greg Coholan at attack is balancing that out. The only difference is everyone knows why Coholan is playing attack. (No Pannell.) Frankly, though, it's a shame the depth at attack is such that it's preferable to cannibalize the midfield.
-- Stupidball, by the way, has not been limited to these last two games. UVA won the Hopkins game despite taking multiple pages out of the Mike London Textbook of Personnel Management. This included but was not limited to a player entirely forgetting that he was supposed to be on the field and wasting most of an EMO as a result. I bring this old news up to illustrate what a season-long struggle this has been. And the announcers, by the way, made a habit of pointing out a number of bad substitutions on UVA's part against Duke.
-- At least UVA gets a moral victory by not pulling off the Duke game's worst moment. No, that was Duke's befuddling clear attempt in the second quarter, forgetting entirely about the 30-second clock. It was a hell of a lot of fun to watch Duke piddle the whole time limit away for absolutely no reason, spoiled only by the announcers completely ignoring it and carrying on their talk-show conversation about something totally unrelated. You want to know why people don't watch lacrosse as much as you'd like? It's because when little-used rules come into play, the announcers are too busy blathering to explain the odd situation on the field.
-- I said it as part of bracketology yesterday, but it bears repeating: Beat Georgetown and a tourney home game is a lock.