- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

At the beginning of the season, it would have been difficult to imagine Virginia playing for its NCAA tournament life before the end of March.

Yet the 17th-ranked Cavaliers (1-4) clearly are in some danger as they take a four-game losing streak into tomorrow afternoon’s game at No.19 Towson (1-2). It may be too early to label any game a must-win for the defending national champs, but the time may not be far off.

“I’m just trying not to go there right now. Our responsibility is to get better every day,” coach Dom Starsia said. “If this becomes, ‘This is a must-win,’ how do we prepare for the next game? I’ve got a bunch of young guys trying to figure out. We have to keep getting better.”

The Cavaliers have improved since the season began, even if their record doesn’t reflect it. After stumbling against Air Force and Denver in Colorado, Virginia dropped an 18-12 decision to Syracuse before last week’s 8-7 loss to Princeton in Charlottesville.

“We haven’t improved fast enough to keep up with the competition,” Starsia said. “The Princeton game was a game where the other team was in the same situation as we were in. [Princeton coach Bill Tierney] was quoted as saying they were a little lucky. From the other standpoint, you make your own luck, and we weren’t making any. … We were pretty good offensively, but not good enough. We were pretty good defensively, but not good enough. It could have gone either way. We just haven’t earned that ‘W’ yet.”

There are still plenty of opportunities to pick up impressive victories, a mixed blessing for a struggling team. After tomorrow’s trip to Towson, the Cavaliers play four straight games against teams currently in the top seven of the Inside Lacrosse poll (Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke) before facing one or two more in the ACC tournament.

Virginia, which hadn’t lost four in a row since 1987 and is looking to avoid its first five-game skid since 1966, could become the first team to win the national title and then miss the NCAA tournament the following year since Cornell in 1972.

“This is a difficult time for the players,” Starsia said. “The issue for us is that our schedule is not very forgiving. Nobody’s feeling sorry for us, and I don’t think they should. We’re getting everybody’s best shot and we knew that going in. We just have to play better. I’m not discouraged. It’s a difficult time, but we’re working at it.”

Smith steps up

As the only returning midfielder on Maryland’s first two lines, Justin Smith had plenty of expectations before the year. A preseason ankle injury didn’t help.

Now, though, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior is emerging as a top weapon for the second-ranked Terrapins (4-0). Last week against Towson, Smith recorded his first hat trick since transferring from Maryland-Baltimore County two years ago. The senior has eight goals, second on the team behind Joe Walters.

“I hadn’t been too light on my feet, but I’m feeling a lot better now,” said Smith, who will face his former team today. “I’m looking to get a lot more shots going.”

Smith’s presence also alleviates the pressure on sophomores Brendan Healy (six goals) and Bill McGlone (seven goals), who also have been productive on the Terps’ first line.

“He’s really giving us something on the first line,” coach Dave Cottle said. “Justin’s a big, strong kid who’s really worked hard on shooting. … That first line is very dangerous.”

Mids in the sun

Normally, Navy’s lacrosse players remain in Annapolis during spring break while most of the brigade goes home. Yet hours after Tuesday’s 13-8 defeat of Hobart, the 11th-ranked Midshipmen (4-1, 3-0 Patriot) flew to Orlando, Fla., where they will play Colgate (2-3, 0-0) this afternoon. It’s a business trip for the Mids but still quite a respite from school and this week’s dreary weather.

“Awesome,” said senior attackman Joe Bossi, who scored four goals against Hobart. “Anything to get out of this place.”

Cornell player dies

Cornell defenseman George Boiardi died Wednesday after collapsing late in the fourth quarter of the Big Red’s 9-6 defeat of Binghamton.

Boiardi, a 22-year-old senior who starred at Bethesda’s Landon School, was defending a shot when he was struck in the chest by the ball with 2:33 left in the game. Boiardi collapsed and never regained consciousness.

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