Cavalier Altitude

The Virginia Cavaliers – 2006 Men’s Lacrosse National Champions.
Virginia spanked Massachusetts 15-7 yesterday to earn the program’s fourth national title and the third for coach Dom Starsia. Virginia jumped out to a 4-1 first quarter lead on the underdog Minutemen, but just as they did on Saturday against Syracuse, the Cavs lost their way a bit in the second quarter. UMass fought back to trail just 5-4 at the half.
With a quick goal in the third quarter, UMass tied things up at 5-5. That was the spark. Instead of freezing up at the possibility of being upset in their final game, Virginia exploded, outscoring UMass 10-2 the rest of the way for a relatively easy win. Had they not gone to a delay game in the final 3-4 minutes, the final score could have been even more lopsided.
The first half stayed tight largely due to Virginia’s settling for outside shots and some outstanding saves by goalie Doc Schneider. While UVA attacked the goal relentlessly against Syracuse, they looked impatient against the Minutemen’s more structured defense. It’s tough to beat a hot goalie while standing and firing from 15 yards away and so the Cavs were held to just 5 goals in the first 30 minutes despite taking a ton of shots.
In the second half, Virginia did a better job of hitting cutters and Schneider cooled off a bit. A few easy goals, a few long range cranks hitting the twine – ballgame.
On the other end of the field, UVA defenseman Michael Culver completely shut down UMass stud attackman Sean Morris. In the pregame, Morris got most of the attention from the media. He was the odds-on favorite to be named national player of the year and his play was generally credited with beating Maryland in Saturday’s semifinal. Morris’ line against Culver – no goals, two assists and only four shots (one of which came after Culver had been pulled late in the game). Virginia decided to have Culver deny Morris the ball and the ploy worked, frustrating Morris and stagnating the UMass offense.
With their final 17-0 record, Virginia completed the best won-loss record in college lacrosse history. Given that, it’s natural to discuss where this team ranks among the all-time best teams. For me, it’s tough to say for certain where they fall, but they are definitely not the best team ever. I went to the 1989 final four and watched Syracuse win the title behind the Gait twins, Paul and Gary. That team was awesome. The Gaits were college lacrosse’s equivalent of Michael Jordan in his prime – just absolutely dominant and doing things that others simply had never thought of – and there were two of them! The Gaits returned the next season and that 1990 Orangemen team was even more dominant than the one I watched (although they later had to vacate that title).
Two thoughts I had after watching the game – first, it was great to see ESPN bring their first-class production to the game. I’m used to watching lacrosse games with only a couple of cameras. If you didn’t see a play correctly with the view they had, you were stuck. But not this weekend. ESPN had the hi-def cameras there (which I unfortunately couldn’t enjoy) and they had every angle covered. It was a lot of fun to use my TiVo to play goals back with the different views to see how and where guys popped open and to see just where the ball slipped by the keeper.
The other observation I had was that Virginia almost never bounced their shots. That blew my mind. When I played, the coach would scream at you if you took a direct shot without bouncing it. If you shot straight in, it better get by the keeper or you were gonna get yelled at. I wonder if that’s a change in philosophy overall, something that Dom Starsia teaches, or just a strategy employed against the goalies this weekend. Come to think of it though, I didn’t see a lot of bounced shots from anyone. Maybe the game has just changed that way, but I don’t really understand why. A well placed bounced shot can be damn tough to defend.
A list of links about the finals – stolen shamelessly from TheSabre.com:
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Cavs cap perfect season with title
~ The Daily Progress
Perfection puts these Cavs on a pedestal
~ The Daily Progress
Culver, UVa defense shut down UMass
~ The Daily Progress
Ward saves his best for last
~ The Daily Progress
Virginia wins national title
~ Daily Press
Perfect score: Virginia wins its fourth national title
~ The Roanoke Times
Cavaliers have the perfect finish
~ The Washington Times
Poskay leaves UVa on career-high note
~ The Washington Times
Virginia caps 17-0 year with 4th championship
~ Richmond Times-Dispatch
Coach proud of players
~ Richmond Times-Dispatch
Virginia’s Title Run Is Picture Perfect
~ The Washington Post
Top of the heap: No. 1 Cavs use second-half run to capture title
~ The Baltimore Sun
3-on-1 faceoff plan is winner
~ The Baltimore Sun
Starsia isn’t shy about winning< ~ The Baltimore Sun Virginia takes lacrosse title at the Linc
~ The Philadelphia Inquirer
Virginia is for champions
~ The Philadelphia Inquirer
UMass lacks a final KO — Run ends vs. No. 1 Virginia
~ The Boston Herald
Run at title falls short for UMass
~ The Boston Globe
Virginia Claims National Title, and a Victory for Lacrosse
~ New York Times
Virginia caps undefeated run with championship
~ ESPN.com

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