Steele Stanwick said the team will still stick together even though the season has ended.
BALTIMORE – The Virginia lacrosse team’s comeback was complete, a four-goal deficit erased in less than 10 minutes and the chance to prolong an emotional season an extra 48 hours was at hand.
And then it wasn’t – and the Cavaliers instead were faced with the sudden conclusion to a season that brought them more attention than any other.
Duke attackman Max Quinzani scored with 12 seconds left, lifting the fifth-seeded Blue Devils to a 14-13 defeat of top-seeded Virginia before 44,389 fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
Chris Bocklet scored four goals and Brian Carroll and Steele Stanwick both added three for the Cavaliers (16-2), who lost in the NCAA Tournament Semifinals for the third straight year.
“The fact that we played hard and came back, had a chance to roll over and didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have expected any less,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “The final score might be the least important part of what’s transpired here – all throughout the spring, really. I love what I do – these young men, the practices, the games, the bus trips. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to do this.”
But he won’t do it on Memorial Day, the platform Virginia so desperately craved if only because it meant the extension of a tense season that created a crucible unlike anything Starsia or any of his players could have imagined. Additional attention was paid to the Cavaliers because midfielder George Huguely remains confined in a jail cell after his May 3 arrest in connection with the death of women’s lacrosse defender Yeardley Love.
But they concluded their season with a game that won’t soon be forgotten, either.
Virginia bolted to an 8-5 lead early in the third quarter, only to watch Duke rattle off seven straight goals and seemingly take command yet again in a rivalry that has tilted heavily to the Blue Devils (15-4) in recent years. Duke had won eight straight meetings before the Cavaliers pulled off a victory in the ACC Tournament Semifinals, and put itself in position to do so again with a 19-11 faceoff edge.
Chris Bocklet scored four times against Duke.
“A big part was the faceoffs and getting the groundballs in the middle of the field in the third quarter,” Bocklet said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way. You could tell that whoever was on the faceoff was going their hardest and fighting for the ball. They wanted it. Sometimes Duke made some plays, and that’s something they’re really good at.”
Virginia nearly pulled off the rally, gradually eroding the Blue Devils’ lead before Carroll fired one in with 1:21 left to tie it at 13. But Duke won the next faceoff and called timeout to set up the next play.
Duke’s Ned Crotty slipped behind the goal and caught defenseman Ken Clausen out of position, and goalie Adam Ghitelman (eight saves) was forced to come out of the cage to defend Crotty. It worked, but in the ensuing rush Crotty spotted Quinzani, who zipped in the game-winner from the right side as Ryan Nizolek belatedly scrambled to mark him.
“Adam did a nice job of playing that the way you’d hope to and we were able to re-engage Crotty,” Starsia said. “I thought Kenny stopped him and pushed him wide. Crotty’s such a threat and everybody drops in a little bit. What makes him so dangerous is he can come around and score but he can also find the open man and he found his running partner Quinzani. I guess Ryan was a little off him.”
Virginia had one final chance to tie. After winning a faceoff and calling a timeout, the Cavaliers set up a full-field play. But Carroll charged offsides, and the Blue Devils harmlessly ran out the clock and celebrated their third trip to the title game in the last six years.
“Brian just, I don’t know what he was thinking about, exactly,” Starsia said. “We put him in place of a defenseman so he was supposed to pass the ball and he thought he had a little more time and he ran over the line.”
And just like that, the Cavaliers were gone. It was the third straight semifinal loss for Virginia, each filled with a special brand of anguish.
The 2008 setback to Syracuse came in double overtime. Last year’s rout at the hands of Cornell was unforeseen given how the Cavaliers played the previous two weeks.
This time, it came against a conference nemesis and ended a four-week stretch during which players and coaches relied upon each other perhaps more than ever.
“I think it’s definitely been difficult for everyone,” Stanwick said. “We really have been leaning on each other and supporting each other and playing seems to take our minds off everything that’s happened. I’m not going to say it’s been easy because it has been difficult. I really am proud of the team.”
As emotional as the last month was for players, it was just as harrowing for Starsia. In addition to the scrutiny he’s received in the wake of Huguely’s arrest, his cancer-stricken father died May 7 and his wife was hospitalized earlier this week.
So often in recent weeks, Starsia sounded understandably weary from the many issues sent his way. But as the season ends, he realizes he’ll still need to be a pillar for his players – not only as they continue to cope, but also while they attempt to contextualize a postseason run that came up a couple goals shy of Memorial Day.
“I don’t want this to diminish for them what we’ve done this season,” Starsia said. “It’s hard right this minute. I hope I have the strength to do that for them.”
And perhaps he’ll draw strength from his players as well. The sense of unity the Cavaliers have articulated this month did not fade in defeat, and it’s evident that, more than any on-field accomplishment, will likely be this team’s lasting legacy.
“The season may be over, but we’re still a team,” Stanwick said. “We’re going to stick together through this thing and make sure everyone’s OK.”