Steele Stanwick gets a celebratory hug from Chris LaPierre.
Between March 26 and April 22, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team played five games, and lost four. Between April 23 and Monday’s NCAA Championship game, the Cavaliers played 5 games, and lost none, ending in what coach Dom Starsia called his most satisfying National Championship ever – and he’s had four of them.
“When we lost [freshman defender] Matt Lovejoy, we had to completely overhaul our defense,” senior defenseman Bray Malphrus said. “We lost some of our big racehorses on offense as well, and we had to kind of overhaul our offense too. We’ve kind of taken a complete 180 from the beginning of the season.”
Before the team did any of these changes, though, the outlook was bleak. The Hoos had gone from being ranked No. 1 in preseason polls to close to dropping out of the rankings. And while they tried to avoid it, the players were not isolated from criticism.
“I try to stay away from the blogs and all that stuff, but sometimes I can’t help myself,” Malphrus said. “I distinctly remember reading back in March or April someone wrote – and it was brutal, it was on the Virginia blog – ‘This season, it’s been a nightmare. I can’t wait for it to be over. I’m already looking forward to next season.’ And I was just like ‘Wow.'”
It was clear to coaches at that point in time that changes needed to be made, both offensively and defensively. The loss of Lovejoy, along with the suspension of Rhamel and Shamel Bratton, meant that the Cavaliers would be at somewhat of a disadvantage. Shamel Bratton was eventually dismissed from the team.
“This is clearly not the most talented team we’ve had here at Virginia,” Starsia said. “It’s not even the most talented team we’ve had at Virginia this year.”
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