- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Virginia goalie Tillman Johnson might go through an entire lacrosse practice without hearing one word from coach Dom Starsia.
It's all part of Starsia's philosophy toward those who mind the cage.
"I try not to disrupt our goalies," said Starsia, whose third-ranked Cavaliers (4-1) play host to top-ranked Johns Hopkins (3-0) today at Klockner Stadium. "They are a different breed of cat. … What does a guy eat in the morning to move his face in front of a speeding object? Whatever Tillman needs to do [to get ready]. He knows what to expect."
Starsia's confidence stems from Johnson's ACC Rookie of the Year season in 2001. He showed signs of brilliance in a four-overtime victory at Hopkins and a 7-2 thrashing of then-No.1 Maryland. A year later, the sophomore from Annapolis has displayed more consistency and emerged as arguably the top goalie in the nation in a relatively thin pool. Of the top 10 teams currently ranked in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, only Georgetown returned its goalie from a season ago (Scott Schroeder).
"In a game like [todays], Tillman is a sort of comfort zone," Starsia said. "There are a lot of unsettled goalie situations [in the nation]. … The evolution of goalie play will have a big impact on what's going on [nationally]."
Johnson has led Virginia to the top tier, with victories against three teams from last year's Final Four. The Cavaliers' only loss came to No.2 Syracuse 15-13. After that game, Starsia felt Johnson had been criticized unfairly. Unlike in practice, the 10th-year coach was the first person to talk to Johnson after the loss.
"It's always good to know when your coach has confidence in you," said Johnson, who is allowing 8.90 goals per game. "Even after the Syracuse game, I was down, and he brought me back up. He got me refocused."
That focus paid off with victories against Princeton, Towson and Notre Dame over an eight-day period. Johnson has been the backbone of Virginia's defense, leading a revitalized transition and clearing game. Last season Virginia struggled with its identity and tried to run too many plays through All-American Conor Gill.
With the addition of five key freshmen contributors to its offense, faceoff and wing play, Virginia is beginning to run like it did in 1999, when it won the national championship. Johnson has been the trigger man in its running attack, often making a save, then sprinting out of the goal to start the transition game.
Johnson credits his more consistent play to starting all 14 games as a freshman. He also does more mental preparation each time out, including establishing a stronger focus when the ball is out of Virginia's defensive end and visualizing plays.
"Last year it was new to me each time," Johnson said. "I'm staying a lot more relaxed, and enjoying it out there."
Starsia expects senior attackman Ian Shure to begin practicing in the next couple of weeks after having been out all season with a severe case of mononucleosis. But even with his return, Starsia said his starting attack, comprised of two freshmen and Gill, is unlikely to change. … Derek Kenney, Virginia's starting goalie in 1999 and 2000, and a midfielder last year, left school for academic reasons before the season. Starsia hopes to have Kenney back next year.

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