FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Maybe it’s not so hard to believe that Dom Starsia is making his 11th final four appearance.
The Virginia coach owns three national titles and 300 wins, and advancing deep into May is the sort of thing that has happened a lot since he arrived in Charlottesville.
But it’s only been 15 years since he made it there the first time, and I asked him today what he remembered of that first trip when Virginia was a No. 5 seed that won at fourth-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals and then toppled No. 1 Syracuse in the semis.
“We played well in the final and lost in overtime, and I remember walking away thinking ‘I’m going to win this championship, no problem,’” Starsia said. “We were only in our second year and made the final. It was five years later before it actually happened. What you learn quickly is how precious these opportunities really are.”
Besides Princeton quickly knocking down the door in the early 1990s, there hasn’t been a team in more than 25 years that quickly swooped in and started winning championships (1983 Syracuse probably counts). Consider that only seven of the last 37 national champs won in a year after they missed the final four.
Virginia was one of last year’s semifinalists. But even with that, Starsia wasn’t entirely sure a rerun would occur this spring.
“I’ve said to any number of people we could better next year in ‘09 and not get back to overtime in the semifinals,” Starsia said. “I never take this for granted. This is a real special moment for a lacrosse coach to be in these things. I’m still as sick to my stomach now as I was the first time I ever did this.”
Those titles – and the seven final four misses – imparted a valuable lesson (one, as an aside, fans of another ACC school a few hours to the north might want to consider): Titles are not a preordained thing.
Starsia learned in difficult fashion, going 0-for-4 while having the two leading scorers in school history (Doug Knight and Michael Watson) on the roster.
“Winning is really hard,” Starsia said. “Our tennis team is 60-2 the last two years. We went undefeated in the regular season and lost in the semifinals a year ago, went undefeated this year and lost in the quarterfinals. The poor frickin’ tennis coach has been there six or eight years and has a top team and got down to the end, and it’s hard. It’s hard to win.”