CHARLOTTESVILLE | Eventually, Virginia’s startling lacrosse struggles with Duke will end.
Eventually didn’t arrive on Friday.
Instead, the top-ranked Cavaliers found themselves on the wrong end of a rout again, absorbing a 13-5 bludgeoning against the No. 7 Blue Devils.
“We have to figure what we didn’t do well,” attackman Steele Stanwick said, “Which was pretty much everything today.”
For the record, Stanwick offered that observation in the wake of Virginia’s latest loss to Duke. It might have come after many contests in recent years; Duke (11-3, 2-1 ACC) has won 12 of 13 against the Cavaliers (10-2, 2-1).
This setback won’t cost Virginia much more than the No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament and its spot atop the national polls. Yet in the wake of an impressive run over nearly two months, the Cavaliers showed a side of themselves that at least offers some reason to pause before penciling them into a spot on Memorial Day.
“What happened tonight was unacceptable,” coach Dom Starsia said. “Call it what you want, but it was unacceptable. We have to be careful of being too dismissive of what happened here. That’s who we are also capable of being. We might think we’re a lot better than that, but that’s also who we’re capable of being.”
Invariably, it is Duke that exposes truly exposes Virginia’s weaknesses. Sure, the Cavaliers lost to Johns Hopkins last month, but that loss came in overtime and on a day Virginia wasn’t at its sharpest. It wasn’t hard to see the Cavaliers reversing that result given another opportunity.
Doing the same against Duke won’t be so easy. The Blue Devils’ athleticism on defense flustered Virginia all night. Goalie Dan Wigrizer stopped 14 shots. C.J. Costabile controlled the game at the faceoff X, snagging nine groundballs.
And then there’s the history, which hovers over the proceedings every time the teams meet. Half of Virginia’s 24 losses since 2005 came against Duke. In the last 13 meetings, the Blue Devils have outscored the Cavaliers 181-114.
“We have a lot of veterans on the team,” Stanwick said. “We’ve been through a lot. Duke’s a great team and they played well. It seems like they always play well against us, but for whatever reason we didn’t play well at all. We have time to turn that around.”
It’s hardly panic time for the Cavaliers. Their postseason profile, with victories over Cornell, Maryland and North Carolina, is stout. Their roster, littered with players crucial to last year’s national title run, has generally avoided injuries.
And, as has been the case so often in recent years, Virginia stumbles into the ACC tournament with an obvious blip in its immediate past.
“I have no quarrel until tonight,” Starsia said. “We needed to play better and we needed to play harder than that team across the way and weren’t quite prepared to do that.”
Perhaps, as goalie Rob Fortunato hypothesized, it is simply the end of a long series of games. Maybe there’s an accumulated psychological element. Maybe Duke, which was coming off a lackluster performance against a nondescript Marist outfit, was irate and summoned its best game of the season.
Virginia’s lost to Duke before and rebounded. Just look at last year, when the Cavaliers fell to the Blue Devils twice and didn’t stumble again.
Of course, they didn’t have to beat Duke on the way to that national title. Even with a championship, Virginia’s struggles against a single opponent remain almost entirely unbroken for the last seven years.
“If the worst thing that happens in my life is I have to figure out how to beat Duke, things are going pretty good,” Starsia said. “At the same time, we’re a group of men trying to be a really good lacrosse team and we had our asses handed to us tonight. We have to take enough pride in what we’re doing that we learn some lessons here and make a better show the next time around.”
—- Patrick Stevens