- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

The ACC lacrosse tournament comes and goes every season, an opportunity for four of the nation’s top teams to improve their postseason profiles even if no automatic NCAA tournament berth is at stake.

It would be a mistake, though, to consider it meaningless - especially this season.

“In some ways, it is a chore,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “We know each other so well, and we have played each other so much. With this one, I don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about the source of motivation.”

That’s because the top-ranked Cavaliers (13-1) are playing their recent nemesis, No. 6 Duke (10-3), in Friday’s semifinals in Chapel Hill, N.C. No. 8 North Carolina (10-4) will face No. 11 Maryland (8-5) in the opening game.

Virginia already has achieved its fifth straight 10-win season and should be a contender next month for its fourth national title since 1999. But for all of those accomplishments, there still isn’t anyone on the Cavaliers’ roster who has defeated Duke.

The Blue Devils have won six straight in the series, Virginia’s longest losing streak against an opponent under Starsia. The stretch includes a 15-10 loss April 11 that ended the Cavaliers’ hopes of an unbeaten season.

“Obviously, you never want to leave with one team you’ve never had the opportunity to beat,” attackman Danny Glading said. “There’s definitely a lot of drive there for our senior class. It does kind of bring a little bitterness into play. If we come up short, there’s going to be a lot of animosity left.”

There was a year ago, when Virginia was clearly angry about losing to Duke twice in a little more than two weeks and then didn’t get another chance at the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament.

Even Virginia’s perfect 2006 carries with it a slight (and probably unfair) bit of question. That was the year Duke’s season was cut short because of rape accusations, and the teams’ scheduled meeting was not played.

Part of the streak can be explained away by talent. Matt Danowski, Zack Greer, Tony McDevitt and Nick O’Hara were anchors for the past Duke teams, and all but Greer played a fifth season at Duke as part of an NCAA ruling.

Yet they’re all gone, and the Blue Devils used a new crop of stars - notably Ned Crotty - to roll past Virginia two weeks ago.

“I think there’s definitely some frustration,” fifth-year senior Mike Timms said. “Credit them for being a good team over the past four years, but at the same time, we’ve been good too. For whatever reason, we haven’t gotten it done against them. At this point, it’s probably a little bit mental.”

It’s an obstacle Virginia would like to move past as it attempts to win its first ACC title in three years and first against a full conference field since 2003.

“I think we’re somewhat stupefied by the whole thing,” Starsia said. “I’m probably going to stay here coaching [for a while], and hopefully I’ll be here the next time we beat Duke. I think it’s going to happen sometime. There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen Friday, but I think we’ll have the full measure of our players’ attention.”

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