Virginia nearing a crossroads in 2013

Virginia CavaliersFace-Off ClassicNorth Carolina Tar HeelsAtlantic Coast ConferenceMaryland Terrapins

When Virginia opened the season with four consecutive wins – including a 13-12 overtime decision over Drexel – the program appeared to have recovered from the graduation losses of attackmen Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet and midfielder Colin Briggs, defenseman Matt Lovejoy and goalkeeper Rob Fortunato.

Since then, however, the No. 13 Cavaliers have dropped four of their past five games and their last three, including a 15-8 setback at the hands of No. 12 Johns Hopkins in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Saturday.

Virginia has lost three in a row for the first time since 2004, and coach Dom Starsia didn’t have much to glean from a second-half performance in which the team outscored the Blue Jays, 7-6, and made the final score a little more respectable.

“It’s a little hard to feel great about anything right this moment,” he conceded. “But what those guys in there are responsible for and what I’m responsible for is that we work hard every day and try to get better. Essentially, they have done that for me. That’s all we can really ask, and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll get tested again in these next couple weeks, and if we can move toward playing a more complete lacrosse game, then we can be a much better team overall. We’re going to have an opportunity to get where we want if we can step up and just do the things we need to do in order to be a better team.”

The Cavaliers won 14 faceoffs compared to 13 for Johns Hopkins, and collected two more ground balls. But the Blue Jays got a goal each from faceoff specialists Mike Poppleton and Drew Kennedy, and Starsia was left wondering what could have been if senior midfielder Chris LaPierre hadn’t been sidelined Wednesday for the remainder of the season with an injured posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

“I’m trying not to talk about that, especially when you’re not winning the ball in the middle of the field,” Starsia said wryly. “That was where he excelled. The toughness factor that he brings overall is something that we always drew strength from. So the fact of the matter is, we need other guys to step up and assume the role for us. And we’ve got guys that want to do it. They’re just trying to figure out how it gets done.”

The schedule doesn’t figure to get any easier as Virginia will delve into the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of its schedule with upcoming meetings with No. 1 Maryland (6-1) on Saturday, No. 10 North Carolina (5-3) on April 6 and No. 8 Duke (7-4) on April 12. Starsia is fully aware that the Cavaliers won’t get much sympathy from their archrivals.

“We’ve got to work hard and get to it and get better,” he said. “This is a fairly unforgiving schedule, and that’s the nature of the beast. We’ll have plenty of other good opponents to demonstrate that we can make some progress in the next couple of weeks.”

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