- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Whenever Virginia defenseman Matt Kelly had a question this season, he knew Michael Culver would have an answer.

As the freshman struggled at times to adapt to Virginia’s rigorous curriculum, Culver would be there with his expertise as an English major to revise Kelly’s papers. And when the Chicago-area native was adjusting to Division I lacrosse, Culver would shout out encouragement and insight to help solidify the Cavaliers’ young defense.

It was no surprise, Culver’s clever play and presence have helped Virginia’s defense mature rapidly this season. That development is a big reason the top-seeded Cavaliers (16-0) can complete the first perfect season in school history with a victory over Massachusetts (13-4) in today’s NCAA title game at Lincoln Financial Field.

“Not only is he that athletic, but he’s so smart,” Kelly said. “He knows what his guy is going to do. It’s like he already knows what’s going to happen.”

That savvy play, which led to Culver’s selection as a first-team All-American, didn’t develop immediately. He came to Virginia with shaky stick skills and an eagerness to play. He got onto the field every game as a freshman as the Cavaliers won the national championship.

He slid into the starting lineup the next year, enduring Virginia’s slide to 5-8. But all along he continued to grow, eventually discovering how best to contain himself — and opposing attackmen.

“He always had an engine that burned white-hot, but he had to learn to slow down,” coach Dom Starsia said. “He actually had to learn to play with some more poise and pick his spots a little better. He would overrun guys all the time because he was working so hard. But when you’re playing defense, you have to know when to throttle down and make the smart play, and he’s really learned that.”

Culver also has fostered the unity the Cavaliers believe has helped them demolish opponent after opponent. Goalie Kip Turner said Culver keeps his teammates inspired, offering encouragement and sending out e-mails to keep everyone informed.

And while he’ll occasionally say things others might not always pick up on, his willingness to take ownership of a defense that includes freshmen Kelly and Mike Timms has galvanized the Cavaliers.

“I think he just tries to act smart; I don’t think he really is,” Turner said jokingly. “But he is an English major, so he knows his big words and sounds smart.”

It doesn’t hurt that Culver has been exceptional all season, handling opponents’ star attackmen every game. He held Maryland star Joe Walters to one assist in two meetings and picked up the ACC tournament MVP award. In Saturday’s 17-10 semifinal victory over Syracuse, he stifled former teammate Joe Yevoli.

Today he will mark Massachusetts star Sean Morris, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist who scored three times in the Minutemen’s semifinal win against Maryland. It is one last monster matchup for Culver, who remains more occupied with orchestrating Virginia’s defense and winning a second title to provide some symmetry to his career than keeping track of his one-on-one performances.

“The most important statistic for defensemen at the end of the day is the scoreboard,” Culver said. “That’s really all you care about.”

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