- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Virginia’s lacrosse team doesn’t want to think about its place in history just yet.

With another performance like yesterday’s pummeling of Syracuse, the Cavaliers will have plenty of time to ponder their potentially lofty company.

The top-seeded Cavaliers moved within a game of completing the first perfect season in school history, routing fifth-seeded Syracuse 17-10 before a final four record crowd of 49,562 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Matt Ward scored four goals and surpassed the 200-point plateau for his career and Garrett Billings added three for Virginia (16-0), which will face unseeded Massachusetts (13-4) in tomorrow’s title game.

It was a bit of exorcism for Virginia, which last lost a year ago in an overtime thriller to Johns Hopkins in the semifinals. That game took place on the same field, and the lingering bitterness of the loss has prodded the Cavaliers throughout the spring.

“We made a commitment to ourselves when we lost that game last year,” senior midfielder Matt Poskay said. “Today, we played well enough to take it to the next step. I think Monday, we have to take that next step.”

Virginia overwhelmed Syracuse (10-5) at the start, scoring off its first nine shots on goal. After shedding a 1-0 deficit — the first time the Cavaliers trailed since March 14 — Virginia peppered goalie Peter Coluccini.

When Poskay scored less than a minute into the second quarter, it seemed unlikely the Orange would challenge again.

“We talk about an early tempo in these games and letting them know we’re here and we’re going to have to be accounted for,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “I think that’s been an important characteristic of this team, especially over the last month or so.”

Syracuse, which this season recovered from a 1-4 start to return to the final four after a one-year hiatus, eventually pulled within 10-7 when Brian Crockett scored four seconds before halftime.

But Virginia soon eliminated the few gaps in its defense. Senior Michael Culver shut down former Cavalier Joe Yevoli, holding him to one point until the fourth quarter and in the process taking away the primary instigator of the Orange’s offense.

“I felt the way they were playing and creating some of the turnovers, we lost our composure a little bit,” Syracuse coach John Desko said. “They did a terrific job. They didn’t let us get settled down.”

The Orange were nominally alive late in the third quarter when they picked up a two-man advantage for a minute while trailing 12-8, but could not put a shot on cage. A few minutes later, Syracuse went up a man again, but Virginia goalie Kip Turner (10 saves) stopped the only shot on goal.

Virginia then scored three goals in a row to open the fourth quarter, extinguishing what little hope for an upset remained.

“It was a critical point in the game, and those were critical stops,” Starsia said. “Our man-down was terrific all day.”

Nearly everything clicked at some point for the Cavaliers, who with a Victory over Massachusetts in the final, could become the first team in history to go 17-0. The pressure of expectations has yet to rattle Virginia, which has methodically vanquished challenger after challenger.

The end of the road arrives tomorrow, and Virginia is looking for a fitting end for a senior class that won a national title as freshmen, then missed the tournament before last year’s final four disappointment. Rather than tightening up, it appears more likely the Cavaliers will be as loose as ever as they seek to complete their year-long mission.

“I haven’t felt we’re a team that seems terribly burdened the whole run,” Starsia said. “I think we’re really enjoying this run, and I think it’s a group that enjoys each others’ company and appreciates that we have a couple more days together.”

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