- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011

In the middle of a difficult April, Virginia coach Dom Starsia often found himself walking away from practice impressed with the progress of attackman Matt White.

The sophomore wasn’t enjoying the best of years. He was held out of fall ball, didn’t begin the season in a prominent role after making 13 starts as a freshman and struggled when given chances in games.

A turnaround probably wasn’t a given. But its arrival couldn’t have proved more fortuitous for the seventh-seeded Cavaliers (10-5), who play second-seeded Cornell (14-2) in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday at Hofstra.

White has six goals - nearly half of his season production - in Virginia’s past three games, including an overtime goal Sunday in the first round against Bucknell to extend the Cavaliers’ season another week.

“I was trying to make plays I shouldn’t have tried to make, and then I settled down in practice and started playing as I’ve always played,” White said. “I’m just trying to get people involved, and it’s kind of worked here lately.”

More importantly, it’s provided Virginia with an emerging offensive threat after losing two starting midfielders (one permanently) in recent weeks.

The Cavaliers dismissed Shamel Bratton from the team late last month, and his brother Rhamel is suspended indefinitely. Starsia said Rhamel Bratton will remain inactive for the quarterfinals.

Their absences place a greater onus on Virginia’s third attack spot, which served all season as a revolving door. Four players had chances to step forward as complements to Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick, but have combined for 13 goals and five assists in 16 starts.

White’s surge might finally provide Virginia with a steady option to fill a noticeable void.

“We’re not going to run by you in the midfield as we were beforehand,” Starsia said. “We need to be as dangerous as possible. Teams were always deciding on whether to put a short stick on that third attackman. He may take a pole now, and that will make life easier for one of the middies. … Having that third attackman is going to be an important piece of the puzzle going forward.”

The first hint White might finally solve the Cavaliers’ season-long quandary came during a miserable 19-10 loss at Duke in the ACC semifinals. It was Virginia’s fourth loss in five games, and the direction of its season was in doubt. White, though, came off the bench to score three goals.

A week later, he was in a reworked lineup and scored a goal against Penn. Then came two goals against Bucknell.

“When you have a guy like Matt who goes hard all the time in practice, eventually it’s going to happen in a game,” Stanwick said. “It wasn’t happening for a while, for whatever reason. I don’t think he’s too afraid to make any mistakes.”

It wasn’t always the case. White acknowledged Sunday he “didn’t always have [his] head completely in it” throughout the season, with minor miscues leading to larger ones for most of the spring.

That didn’t happen Sunday, when White committed two turnovers in the second half, but still deposited a Stanwick feed to score perhaps the most significant goal of his career.

“I think he was learning how to discipline himself on and off the field,” Starsia said. “He’s a good kid, a great kid. Kids struggle being away from home and going through those different kind of things. … To see them begin to grow up and reap the benefits from their work is what this is all about, ultimately. I’m not going too far out on any kind of limb in saying this is going to be a valuable year in his life.”

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