- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Imagine Jason Kidd with hardly anybody to finish his precise passes.

That's the situation Conor Gill the Kidd of college lacrosse endured a season ago as the Virginia attackman was unable to utilize his uncanny field vision and feeding ability.

Not this year.

Gill has freshmen John Christmas and Joe Yevoli playing like veterans during second-ranked Virginia's 5-1 start. With Gill as leader, the Cavaliers' attack has become one of the most formidable in the nation.

"Not knocking the guys last year, but the talent level right now is higher," said Gill, who even in an admitted down year in 2001 still earned first-team All-America honors with 15 goals and 34 assists. "Last year was kind of a reloading and rebuilding year. It's been pretty surprising how the guys have handled it."

Gill should know. As a freshman on Virginia's 1999 national champions, he was in a similar position as Christmas and Yevoli. The only difference was that Gill was playing alongside junior and senior attackmen, making his situation a little more manageable. Gill finished his first year with 22 goals and 30 assists, and was on his way to an outstanding career.

But Gill's junior season was not how he envisioned it. After back-to-back Final Fours, Virginia finished 7-7 and blew a four-goal, fourth-quarter lead against Hofstra in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"It was pretty predictable where [the offense] was going to come from," said Gill, whose Cavaliers play No.5 Maryland (6-1) today at Byrd Stadium. "It was pretty obvious a lot of the offense was going to come through me and [midfielder] Chris Rotelli and a couple of other guys. This year one of our strengths is our balance. You really don't know where it's going to come from. … I love watching John and Joe and, to be honest, they're better dodgers than I am. We have to play to our strengths."

To get stronger and better off-the-ball play, Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia knew he needed to upgrade his offense so he could complement seniors Gill and Rotelli. And in one season, Virginia has transformed from a Toyota to a Lexus.

Yevoli and Christmas already have played against all of last season's Final Four teams and then-No.1 Johns Hopkins last week. The results: Virginia has just one loss (15-13 to top-ranked Syracuse), Christmas is tied for the team lead in points with Gill (20), and Yevoli has 19 (17 goals).

"Their poise in the midst of the schedule that we're playing and the games we're playing is really unique for a couple of young guys like this," Starsia said. "I'm not sure we've seen something like this in a long time.

"I'm mostly surprised with their poise. You know they have ability and talent, but their ability to make plays in crunch time it goes back to playing well at the end of games they're right in the middle of the fray."

Christmas scored four goals against Syracuse and followed it up a week later with a hat trick in a 13-11 victory over defending national champion Princeton. In a 13-8 win over Towson, Christmas and Yevoli combined for three goals during a five-goal run to end the game. Against Hopkins, Virginia broke open a 6-6 tie with six straight goals, Christmas having a hand in all of them.

"[John and I] work well together," Yevoli said. "We like playing with each other, then there's Conor. He kind of puts us all together. He's our leader, he's the guy we listen to when we need help, when we need something. … If the game's [on the line], I'm sure we're going to give him the ball. He can see the whole field, he's a veteran, he's been here so many times."

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