- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia’s young and struggling lacrosse team improved yesterday but still extended its startling early-season losing streak. The ninth-ranked Cavaliers stayed close for a half before dropping an 18-12 decision to second-ranked Syracuse before 3,337 at Klockner Stadium.

It was the third straight defeat for Virginia, which played without injured attackman John Christmas. The Cavaliers (1-3) lost to Air Force and Denver last weekend but played better against the imposing Orangemen.

“We have young players and a lot of new players, and it’s going to take time to jell,” said sophomore attackman Matt Ward, who had three goals and four assists. “The guys last year played together for four years, and the guys here now are playing for the first time together. Give it the whole season and you’ll see some progression.”

Brian Crockett scored six goals to lead Syracuse (2-0).

Virginia appeared to be every bit the inexperienced team. The Cavaliers’ young attackmen and midfielders were occasionally dazzling around the cage but often were careless while passing. Virginia’s defense, meanwhile, frequently allowed Syracuse to get a man open near the crease for easy goals.

“We just have to cut down on the unforced errors,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “There were times where we looked a little inept.”

Despite those problems, Virginia went into the locker room within a goal. However, the Cavaliers’ chances of leaving with an upset unraveled in the first few minutes of the second half.

Virginia won the third quarter’s opening faceoff but turned it over 18 seconds into the half. Crockett and Steve Vallone scored in the next minute to extend the Orangemen’s lead to 9-6.

Midfielder J.J. Morrissey scored to provide a brief answer for the Cavaliers, but Michael Powell responded by sticking a shot past Tillman Johnson (10 saves) for the Orangemen. Syracuse’s Sean Lindsay then scored back-to-back goals, and Virginia never again closed within three goals.

“You have to be resilient,” Virginia defenseman Brett Hughes said. “You have to come back every time because you know they’re going to make runs. We had our run, and you just have to be ready for that. Maybe we didn’t bounce back as fast as we could have or should have, but that’s just a young team.”

The absence of Christmas hurt the Cavaliers, especially in a game that predictably became a track meet. Christmas is nursing a nagging leg ailment, and Starsia opted to get the junior healthy for the rest of the season rather than risk further injury.

Hughes returned from an injury sustained Feb.29 and did a solid job covering Powell. The Syracuse star had to work for his few open looks but still scored three goals and added two assists as he moved to ninth on the program’s career points list with 231.

For much of the first half, Virginia kept pace with the uptempo Orangemen. After spotting Syracuse the first two goals, the Cavaliers briefly battered goalie Jay Pfeifer (15 saves) while ripping off a 5-1 run to take a two-goal lead early in the second quarter. Both Pfeifer and Syracuse’s offense regrouped, holding the Cavaliers to a pair of goals in a stretch of more than 18 minutes as the Orangemen took command.

“We’re a team for whom life is not simple right this minute,” Starsia said. “We just have to keep working at it.”

The Cavaliers are 1-3 for the second time since 1966 and are in the midst of only the third three-game skid of Starsia’s 12-year tenure. No.4 Princeton visits Klockner on Saturday, and meetings with Towson, Johns Hopkins and Maryland also loom in the next month. The opportunity to bury the early struggles still exists for Virginia, but so does the possibility of falling into a much deeper hole.

“We play a schedule where we need a couple big wins, and we’re going to have teams like this [every week]. Syracuse, and it just keeps going,” Hughes said. “We’re going to play five more Syracuses … We just need to get a couple wins to get back on track. You can erase this. Our nightmares can end next week.”

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