Maybe it felt like tedium at times Saturday for the Virginia lacrosse team. If so, it was understandable.
The No. 2 Cavaliers were a week removed from their first loss of the season. Goals and, for some stretches, possession time weren’t coming easy against No. 9 Maryland.
Well, at least until a period of a little more than a quarter when Virginia looked like, well, Virginia.
“I’m standing out there thinking ‘When was the last time we got an easy goal?’” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “This is the coach at Virginia who’s complaining about that. I certainly hoped that would happen. I had to kind of keep reminding myself that was possible for us. It just felt like pulling teeth most of the day.”
Just not in the final 20 minutes, a stretch that catapulted the Cavaliers to a 12-8 victory at Byrd Stadium. Virginia eventually exhausted the thin and inexperienced Terrapins, who played without midfielder Kevin Cooper (suspension) and barely used midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (undisclosed injury) outside of extra-man opportunities.
The Cavaliers (9-1, 1-0 ACC), meanwhile, had defending national player of the year Steele Stanwick, who matched a career-high with eight points (three goals and five assists), including a hand in six of seven goals at one stretch.
“He’s a great player and does some miraculous things,” Maryland defensive midfielder Landon Carr said.
Among the latest feats for Stanwick, who last had eight points in Virginia’s NCAA tournament opener against Bucknell last season, was a goal from the edge of the crease while on the ground and smothered by two Maryland defensemen.
The Terps’ issues went deeper than simply being Stanwicked, as so many opponents have over the last four seasons. Maryland (5-3, 1-2) did much of what it set out to accomplish, overcoming a choppy start and securing a 7-5 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
From that point forward, the Terps just sputtered. Neither team went especially deep into its bench (both used 21 players), but Maryland couldn’t keep up once Virginia began to dominate groundballs and faceoffs in the final third of the game.
“We wore them down a little bit,” Starsia said. “They were playing less people in the middle of the field. Carr and [Jesse] Bernhardt in particular are really, really good in the middle of the field. I felt we wore them down in the second half and that really made a difference.”
There was finally a sense of comfort for Virginia as well once it took its first lead of the second half. They finally solved Maryland goalie Niko Amato (12 saves) in the fourth quarter, completing an impressive 7-1 run over a 16-minute span to finally dispatch the Terps.
“We got a little bit more possession time,” Stanwick said. “We kind of settled down and realized we didn’t have to make a play on the first spin. We let the ball spin a little bit and were able to get some shots on the back side once we got the ball moving a little bit.”
It was an important revelation for the Cavaliers, who avoided their first losing skid since falling to Johns Hopkins and Maryland at the same stage of the schedule last year.
Maryland, meanwhile, suffered back-to-back losses for the first time under coach John Tillman and was eliminated from contention for the ACC regular season title.
Some issues were to be expected for a team so new, the watchword Tillman has adopted to describe his dramatically revamped roster.
It’s also clear what he would like to become old: Giving up five goals in the final period for the second straight week.
“The fourth quarter, it’s not been our quarter, and that’s something we [usually] take pride in,” Tillman said. “Part of it is we haven’t won faceoffs, we’ve gotten a little bit tired. Obviously, when you’re behind, you have to force the issue a little bit. With a young group down there, that’s not really our strength.”
It’s quite the opposite for Virginia. When the tedious moments evaporate, the chance for an explosion from the Cavaliers exists. Just ask Maryland, who know it all too well after Saturday’s setback.