How would Virginia have fared if star Steele Stanwick had missed all of last season?
Would UVa have dominated the way it did back in 2006 without Matt Ward?
In team sports, it can sometimes be hard to quantify one player’s impact.
That said, there’s no doubt that Virginia has badly missed senior Chris LaPierre during its current five-game losing streak.
LaPierre, who is redshirting due to a right knee injury, was as important to this season’s team as Stanwick and Ward were to theirs.
Before the season, Virginia coach Dom Starsia named LaPierre his sole captain, marking the first time he went with just one in his 39 years of coaching.
“It speaks to his presence in the program, speaks to his stature amongst his peers and what he brought to the program overall,” said Starsia, prior to practice on Tuesday.
In talking about LaPierre, Starsia didn’t feel as though he was making excuses for his team’s sub-par season. Rather, he was just being pragmatic about the situation.
“It’s a big piece of the thing — I don’t think there’s any denying that,” said Starsia, whose team plays at Duke on Friday.
Virginia junior Scott McWilliams, one of the players trying to pick up the slack, called LaPierre’s loss “huge.”
“He’s such an incredible player and a good leader,” McWilliams said. “We definitely miss him, but we’re focusing on what we can do now without his presence on the field.”
Lately, that hasn’t been much to write home about.
While Starsia has consistently praised the effort and improvement of his team, Virginia has just a 5-6 record and is on track to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
Offensively, Starsia says UVa has been able to generate plenty of shots, but just not a lot of quality ones. He believes not having LaPierre, who goes by the nickname “Shocker,” has been a big reason why.
“I think part of that is his ability to get us from defense to offense quickly — we miss that,” Starsia said. “We don’t seem as fast in the unsettled game going up and down the field.”
Defensively, Virginia has missed LaPierre’s physical presence. LaPierre also could guard a lot of players one-on-one, which necessitated less defensive slides.
“We’re a little overmatched physically with our short stick d-middies without ‘Shocker’ out there,” Starsia said.
Virginia has also missed LaPierre on faceoffs. When healthy, LaPierre is one of the best short-stick faceoff wings in the country.
Starsia says he has been “feverishly trying to fill in the blanks.”
“I’ve got guys that we’re asking to fill those roles probably a little bit sooner than they were prepared to do — like [Rob] Emery and [Ryan] Tucker and Scott McWilliams,” Starsia said.
During practice on Tuesday, LaPierre was suited up and doing whatever he could to help out.
“Off the field he’s been tremendous,” Tucker said. “At practice, he’ll be the one picking up the balls if we throw them away behind the goal or whatever it is. He’s just been contributing all the time.
“He’ll give us some pointers on the sidelines during games and if we make a mistake he’ll get on us and try and help us correct it the next time.”
LaPierre, who hopes to return as a fifth-year senior next season, was unavailable for comment.
“I’m sure he’s pretty frustrated, but at the same time, he doesn’t show it,” Tucker said. “You couldn’t tell by looking at him. He has a smile on his face every day in practice and he comes out here with enthusiasm each and every day.”