Via UVa Sports Information; Photos: cville-lax.com

Photo copyright (c) 2007 Tom McCrystal

George Huguely (11) prepares for a resumption in the action during the Virgina-Georgetown scrimmage, Sunday, February 18, 2007. (Click for a larger version: 78K.)

While the season following a national championship may present some unique challenges, it is a “problem” most college programs would like to address. The 2006 undefeated men’s lacrosse season clearly ranks among the finest in the University of Virginia’s athletic history and may have raised the bar for college lacrosse with its performance and personality. A team that set the NCAA record for consecutive victories also led the nation with USILA Scholar All-Americans and was selected for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Sportsmanship Award.

With all that in mind, the sense of anticipation and enthusiasm that accompanied the start of the 2006-07 school year has been striking. A younger UVa team, with players in new roles, seems keenly intent on forging its own exciting identity. Spirited fall workouts, competitive scrimmages and diligent out-of-season training have characterized the effort. Fans may need a scorecard early in the season, but there are some talented young players anxious for this opportunity.

In typical Virginia lacrosse fashion, the rigors of the regular season schedule challenge young players to develop while embroiled in the swirling cauldron of competition. Traveling to Long Island for an early season game with Stony Brook, the much anticipated showdown with Syracuse for the Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic doubleheader at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, weekend contests that follow against ACC foes and traditional rivals Towson, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and new Ivy-power Dartmouth and the ACC Tournament that returns to a campus site in Durham–could there be a more exciting line-up? The countdown to the opening faceoff with Drexel has begun.

Attack
The attack features three youngsters who combined for 148 points while playing alongside Tewaaraton Award winner Matt Ward. Junior Ben Rubeor (6) enters his third year as a starter and displays a passion and energy often disguised by a thoughtful demeanor according to head coach Dom Starsia. “His outstanding work ethic makes him one of the finest riding attackman in the college game, while his teammates’ decision to have him as an undergraduate captain speaks to his stature in the program,” said Starsia.

Sophomores Danny Glading (9) and Garrett Billings (19) are a dynamic complement to each other and to the team’s offensive patterns. “Danny sees the field with a keen eye and his ability to get to the cage improves daily. He is a leader, on and off the field,” said Starsia. “Garrett’s ‘points per minutes played’ was clearly the highest on the team last year. Everyone is anxious to see Garrett in a fulltime capacity. He is creative and smart and scores from improbable angles.”

Junior Ryan Kelly (33) played his best lacrosse this past fall according to Starsia. “Experience and poise have combined with his powerful dodging to raise his game. He will make an important contribution this season,” Starsia said.

Sophomore Gavin Gill (4) was the most prepared player in the program for fall ball and was likely the most improved overall. “He brought a stronger, more determined physical presence to his play. Gavin could easily find himself coming out of the midfield this season,” said Starsia.

Freshman George Huguely (11) made steady progress throughout fall lacrosse according to Starsia. “He is a big, strong athlete who can force a defense to deal with him on the dodge. George could also see some time in midfield and could find himself in the lineup early in the year,” said the head coach.

Senior Adam Fassnacht (2) began to make his presence felt facing off during last year’s playoff run. “He is likely on a short list of the strongest athletes in Division I and could be our lead faceoff man in the spring,” said Starsia. “Adam’s play will be an important component of our success.”

Freshman Tim Fuchs (38) is the lone newcomer on attack. Starsia says Fuchs “is a clever left-handed scorer. His play was a pleasant surprise throughout the fall, but he is likely to make his greatest impact in the future.”

Midfield
The composition in the midfield begins with senior co-captain Drew Thompson (12). “He is probably the most versatile middie I have seen around here in my 15 years at Virginia,” said Starsia. “We have asked him to do everything; he has played man down and faced off. We have subbed him in on defense and he has played on our first midfield. He is going to play extra man this year, which will pretty much cover the whole gamut over the course of his career. I would challenge anybody to show me a better all around lacrosse player than Drew Thompson.”

The midfield units may not finally sort themselves out until closer to the first game, but a number of young players have given indications of being ready.

Sophomore Steve Giannone (5) is one of the most dynamic players in the program, says Starsia. “Steve often beats himself up with his physical play but he can consistently find his way to the cage. His transition engine burns white hot and he will likely be asked to contribute at both ends of the field this year.”

Juniors Jack Riley (10), Will Barrow (23) and Drew Garrison (13) will all be given the opportunity to play key roles according to Starsia. “Jack ran with the first group throughout the fall and played his best lacrosse. He is big and strong, with a hard shot and has an athlete’s knack for getting open without the ball.”

Barrow has been a major contributor on the defensive midfield since his arrival on Grounds. “He is one of the fastest athletes in the college game and we need him to assume a bigger role this spring,” Starsia said. “Will’s development in 2007 may largely define the quality of our transition game.”

Garrison is strong, with a hard lefthanded shot and scored five goals last season. “He could bring balance to any one of the midfields, but we need some consistency to accompany his potential,” said Starsia.

Senior Foster Gilbert (1) missed the fall with a nagging injury but is one of the most versatile, capable players in the program, notes Starsia. “He has been a regular throughout his career and his experience will be invaluable this season,”

Freshman Brian Carroll (36) may be the most realistic option for the first midfield. “Brian is a powerful athlete who can split and shoot effectively with both hands,” Starsia said. “He was impressive alongside Drew Thompson throughout the fall.”

Max Pomper (42) missed fall lacrosse while still recovering from last season’s Achilles tendon surgery. “He is a strong, determined athlete who continues to work very hard in preparation for this season,” said Starsia. “The player who scored our first goal in ’06 may find himself in position to do the same in ’07.” He received a medical hardship for last season and has four years of eligibility.

Two sophomores–Kevin Coale (18) and Joe Dewey (25) — continue to make consistent progress in Starsia’s eyes. “Kevin is big, strong and smart, and more of an offensive option for this team,” said the head coach. “Joe is quick and fast, and especially good between the lines.”

Four talented freshmen also exhibit a myriad of skills. Brian McDermott (26) is described by Starsia as a `pepper pot.’ “Brian is very aggressive, with a nice shooting stroke. Plus, he may be our faceoff man of the future,” said Starsia. “Kevin Carroll (14) is a smart lefthander who can fit in with the most experienced players. He will find his way onto the field this spring.”

Mike Thompson (17) was hindered by a sore knee during the fall, but he “is strong and fast and could play some defensive midfield for us this season,” said Starsia. Ryan Burns “is a dynamic player who needs a little of the poise that accompanies experience,” Starsia said. “He has turned some heads.”

Defense
Senior co-captain Ricky Smith returns to anchor the team’s most experienced unit. There is athleticism and depth among all the candidates working to get on to the field at the defensive end. Smith, the next in a long line of outstanding defensemen under Starsia, is not `oversized’ according to the head coach, but “is one of the smartest, best-skilled defenders in the game. His game has improved every year, especially as he has assumed greater responsibility; he is a leader on this team.”

Starsia calls sophomore Matt Kelly a `revelation’ who started every game a year ago. One of the most the most physical players in the game, “he is fast and strong, and has uncanny instincts for the game,” said Starsia.

Junior Tim Shaw and two freshmen, Ken Clausen and Ryan Nizolek, continue to compete for the third starting position. “Tim worked with a short stick in the fall and any of these three could find himself as a midfield defender. Tim has worked hard in anticipation of this opportunity and played his consistently best lacrosse in the fall,” Starsia said. “Ken and Ryan are a lot alike–impressive athletes who are big and fast and have good sticks. The future is in good hands.”

Junior James King, “continues to be a strong, experienced influence in the program,” says Starsia, but a sore knee is hampering him heading into the spring.

Senior Drew Jordan has also battled injuries during the past year, but his experience is an asset. “Drew has a smart stick and a level head,” said Starsia.

Starsia calls sophomore Michael Britt “one of our most improved players over the past year,” and adds, “he has worked hard to prepare himself for the competition.”

There is a lot of versatility among the candidates for the longstick midfielder according to Starsia. Smith played there as a freshman in 2004 and is still one of the most creative long sticks in the game, especially going up the field. Shaw, Clausen and Nizolek are also athletic options.

Last year’s starter, sophomore Mike Timms, is back and continues to improve. An emergency appendectomy sidelined him for the first month of fall lacrosse but he had an inspired final two weeks. “As his stickwork continues to get better, this former soccer striker will be a force in the middle of the field,” said Starsia.

Freshman Jon Borror made a very positive first impression in the fall. “He is excellent with the ball in his stick and as he continues to get stronger and more confident, he will really blossom,” Starsia said.

Sophomore Chris Conlon missed most of last season following knee surgery. Starsia said Conlon, “is a quick, enthusiastic study who works very hard. He is going to see the field this spring.”

Junior Pike Howard is smart and solid. He transferred to UVa a year ago and made an important contribution toward last year’s national championship. “He is one of our hardest workers,” said Starsia, “and he could see time, particularly on the faceoff wings.”

Freshman Kyle Menendez is described by Starsia as a “lean, athletic, player who is a very hard worker. He will continue to improve quickly and be an asset in the future.”

Goal
Midfielder J.J. Morrissey won the “Class of 99 Award” as the team’s Unsung Hero last season, but it could as easily gone to senior Kip Turner. Turner enters his third year as a starter and has toiled quietly as one of the nation’s finest goalies. “Kip is a strong, sound, yet athletic player who played his best lacrosse in the fall,” said Starsia. “He will be asked to anchor the team early in the season as a young offense finds its legs. He is confident and ready for his best campaign.”

Junior Bud Petit was having an excellent fall until an ankle injury knocked him out of the scrimmages. “He was on top of his game until the injury,” Starsia said. “He has always been supportive of his classmate and he continues to work hard.”

The quality of play in the goal throughout the fall was also enhanced by the play of redshirt freshman Mark Wade. “Mark is both big and strong, while at the same time quick and explosive,” said Starsia. “He made an impressive college debut in scrimmage against Georgetown in the fall.”

Freshman Rob Eimer stood out in a very competitive fall tryout and joins the team to provide added depth between the pipes.