- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

BALTIMORE — A year after one of the most forgettable seasons in program history, Virginia has re-assumed its spot among college lacrosse royalty.

The fourth-seeded Cavaliers fended off fifth-seeded Navy 10-8 yesterday before 6,504 in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Homewood Field, clinching the program’s eighth final four berth in the last 12 years.

Matt Poskay scored four goals and Ben Rubeor added three for the Cavaliers (11-3), who will meet Johns Hopkins (14-0) in the semifinals Saturday in Philadelphia.

“I thought it was a real gut-check win,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said.

Billy Looney had three goals and Graham Gill and Ben Horn both had two for the Midshipmen (12-4), who fell short of reaching back-to-back final fours despite a solid performance.

“We couldn’t have been more prepared to play Virginia, but the problem was we had to play Virginia,” Navy coach Richie Meade said.

The Cavaliers’ current situation seemed unthinkable a year ago, when they followed their 2003 national title with a miserable 5-8 season. Virginia bounced back this spring, spending much of the season in the top three before dropping two of three entering the postseason.

Those woes — both this season and last — probably have allowed the Cavaliers to relish their place on Memorial Day weekend more than in years past.

“It’s been a pretty long 20 months,” attackman John Christmas said. “To come from last year and getting back to this point, we’ve waited a really long time.”

The Cavaliers led for much of the game, but never could entirely shake the Mids. The Cavaliers were up 3-1 in the first quarter, but Navy tied it at 4-4 before ceding the next three goals. The Mids rallied again to tie it at 8-8 after Horn’s transition goal with three seconds left in the third and Looney’s shot dribbled through goalie Kip Turner’s legs with 9:40 remaining.

Virginia withstood the Mids’ pressure and depth, controlling possession for much of the final 10 minutes. Sophomore Drew Thompson took Kyle Dixon’s feed and zipped a high shot just past Navy goalie Matt Russell (12 saves) with 5:21 left for what proved to be the game-winner.

“We leave the farthest man from the ball away, so our defense knew that was an option,” Russell said. “We take chances and hope we can knock away those passes, but we didn’t. That’s the luck of the draw.”

The Mids won the following faceoff, but turned it over 90 seconds later. Virginia burned off two minutes and called a timeout before Christmas passed out of a triple team to Rubeor, who deposited an insurance goal in the empty net.

Jack de Villiers, who won only six of 22 faceoffs against Navy’s Chris Pieczonka, captured the ensuing draw and the Cavaliers held on for the victory.

Pivotal figures on both sides were shut down. Virginia’s Matt Ward, marked by Navy’s Mitch Hendler, failed to score for the first time all season. Navy attackman Jon Birsner, the feeder in the Mids’ offense, was shut out by Virginia’s Steve Holmes.

Navy did thrive in transition for much of the day, controlled the tempo and appeared to wear the Cavaliers down in the second half. Yet it wasn’t enough to collect a victory at Homewood, a veritable house of horrors where Navy has lost 18 straight dating to 1973.

“It’s hard to look around the locker room and know that’s the last time you’re going to get to do that,” Gill said. “That’s the hardest thing to do, to look at your guys and your teammates and your best friends and know that’s the last time you’re going into battle like that with your guys.”

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