- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

Virginia experienced a Rocky Mountain low last weekend, and rebounding from it won’t be easy.

The Cavaliers (1-2) dropped a 7-6 decision to Air Force on Saturday, then lost to Denver 9-7 the next day. The pair of jolting defeats plunged Virginia from second to ninth in the Inside Lacrosse rankings.

“I’m at a loss to explain it,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “It was uncharacteristic of the way we’ve played. We just broke down in all aspects of the game. You could offer inexperience, or you could offer the length of the trip or the altitude, but none of it adequately explains it. We just didn’t play well enough. … We looked like a team that was not prepared to play, and I’ll take the blame for that.”

Virginia, which fields a new starting midfield and a young group of defensemen, now must play host to No.2 Syracuse (1-0) today at Klockner Stadium. It’s the first in a seven-week stretch of games that includes visits from Duke, Johns Hopkins and Princeton and trips to Maryland, North Carolina and Towson.

“Someone told me Syracuse was the perfect antidote,” Starsia said. “Please. That can’t possibly be the case. But if you needed something to get your attention, playing Syracuse certainly does that.”

The Cavaliers could be boosted by the return of Brett Hughes. One of the top defensemen in the country, Hughes left Sunday’s game with an undisclosed injury but is probable today.

If nothing else, Virginia’s catastrophe in Colorado momentarily has eliminated the distraction of the team’s status as defending champs.

“We’re younger and we’re newer than people think,” Starsia said. “We didn’t expect to stumble in both games. I’ve tried to tell the kids the Syracuse game isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning of the year. Maybe we can stop talking about last year’s championship and this year’s championship and start talking about today’s practice [and the next game].”

Hoyas regrouping, too

Virginia isn’t the only team with a surplus of youth and a jarring early season loss. Georgetown, which tumbled from seventh to 13th in the rankings after a 14-5 season-opening loss to Maryland on Saturday, welcomes No. 8 Cornell to Harbin Field today.

“We’re going to live with some young players in roles that they’re going to have to grow into,” Hoyas coach Dave Urick said. “It doesn’t get any easier. Cornell’s a good team, and Penn State is right behind them. There are no games for us to wean people and have them grow into their roles. They have to get on-the-job training, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

The Hoyas already are down two of their top six midfielders. Junior Dave Paolisso (ACL tear) won’t play this season, and Urick doubts senior Mike Boynton (hamstring) will be back this year.

Still, Urick is optimistic the Hoyas will improve as the season progresses.

“We have some of the best players in the country,” Urick said. “[Faceoff specialist] Andy Corno, [defensive midfielder] Brodie Merrill and [midfielder] Walid Hajj are among the best at what they do. … We have to understand the focus is on the journey and not the destination. This team’s going to take some time to mature.”

Wild, wild West

Air Force and Denver vaulted into the rankings with their upsets of Virginia, but the programs face an odd conundrum — figuring out ways to keep luring top programs to play both teams early in the season on consecutive days.

Maryland, Duke and Syracuse all have traveled West and come away with sweeps in recent years, though Denver played all three to three-goal games. Now that Air Force (2-0), which is already within a victory of its total from last year, and Denver (2-0), which shared the Great Western Lacrosse League title last season, have spoiled the trip for a national power, top programs will be leery of making the trip.

“I don’t know how many teams are going to go out there now,” Urick said. “[Denver coach Jamie Munro’s] been bugging me to go out there for years, and I don’t know if I will now. You put your team at a real disadvantage. You’re playing at altitude, you have a long trip and you play back-to-back.”

Geppi-Aikens honored

Loyola will rename Curley Field, its lacrosse stadium, in honor of late women’s lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens before tomorrow’s women’s game between the fourth-ranked Greyhounds and top-ranked Princeton.

Geppi-Aikens, who died from brain cancer last June, went 197-71 in 15 seasons as Loyola’s coach. The Greyhounds went to 10 NCAA tournaments under Geppi-Aikens, including seven final fours.

A three-time national coach of the year (1996, 1997 and 2003), Geppi-Aikens coached the Greyhounds from a wheelchair throughout last season, which ended when Loyola lost to eventual champ Princeton 5-3 in the national semifinals.

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