- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2011

This month, as the vaunted Virginia lacrosse program suffered an atypical plunge, midfielder Colin Briggs recalled redshirt senior Todd Faiella (who began his career at Brown) standing in front of the Cavaliers and offering a message:

These things happen to teams.

It doesn’t make it easy for the rest of the No. 10 Cavaliers (8-5), who enter Saturday’s regular-season finale at Klockner Stadium against No. 15 Penn (8-4) searching for anything good as they head into the postseason.

The Cavaliers have dropped four of five, squeezing an overtime defeat of North Carolina into a stretch that included a tight loss at Johns Hopkins, a shaky performance against Maryland and a pair of losses at longtime nemesis Duke. Virginia already has as many losses in any season since a forgettable 5-8 spin in 2004.

Make no mistake, Virginia should reach the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection. The Cavaliers rank in the top 10 of the RPI and strength of schedule. Their signature victory over Cornell is a jewel few teams can match.

But the recent results left Virginia reeling.

“Saturday is a big game for us,” attackman Steele Stanwick said. “We have a saying in our program that there are no big games, but I think we can almost view it as another playoff game for us. We have no momentum, and getting off to a good start would definitely help going into the tournament.”

There are mitigating circumstances. Matt Lovejoy, one of the few experienced options at close defense, was lost for the season this month after season-ending shoulder surgery. Shamel Bratton, a two-time All-America pick at midfielder, served his second one-game suspension of the season against Maryland. He has only three of his 20 goals this season in the three games since his return.

There could be another headache looming. Virginia coach Dom Starsia faced questions from reporters Thursday about who would be available to play Saturday and offered a vague reply.

“I would just tell you that we are not prepared to comment on that right now,” Starsia said. “If you want to stay in touch with me over the next day or two, you know, but thats just not something were prepared to comment on right this second.”

An understated issue could be Stanwick’s ailing foot. The ACC’s player of the year sat out the first Duke game to rest the injury, then didn’t record a point in the Cavaliers’ 19-10 loss in last week’s ACC tournament.

“It’s just a meat grinder,” Starsia said. “It’s the time of season we’re playing our most familiar opponents. If you’re doing this differently, these teams will play like they’re smelling blood in the water. I feel like every time I say we’re not making excuses, well, we’re making excuses. Nobody’s feeling sorry for us, and nobody needs to.”

The pressing question is whether Virginia can regroup. A victory Saturday would likely secure a first-round home game, but it wouldn’t guarantee a reworked defense - the Cavaliers frequently relied on a zone since Lovejoy’s injury - would hold up deep into the tournament.

Still, Virginia’s roster is littered with talent, and Starsia insists he believes it is capable of a playoff push.

“I think that’s our main goal,” Briggs said. “We keep saying our best game is still out there. We’re trying to get to that point.”

Getting there means moving past recent misery. Virginia hadn’t suffered consecutive losses in the past three seasons. It’s done so twice in a month, and now must figure out how to thrive in May after a rocky April. Beating Penn, then, would be a good start.

“I’ve probably lost as many games as I have my whole career,” Stanwick said. “The losses weigh a little more on you when you’re not used to it. All programs go through something like this, and we’ve been fortunate to go through regular seasons without many losses. We’ve got to keep it in perspective. Everything we want to get is still there.”

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