The Virginia men’s lacrosse team has lost 12 of its last 13 games to Duke, including the last four in a row. If the Cavaliers lose another tonight in Durham, their NCAA Tournament hopes will be on life support.
That is, if they aren’t already.
Just to be considered for the tournament, teams need to have at least a .500 record.
Right now, Virginia is 5-6 on the season with two regular-season games remaining — tonight against the Blue Devils and next Saturday at home against Bellarmine.
If the Cavaliers don’t win both games, they would have to win the ACC Tournament just to finish with a .500 mark.
Even then, Virginia, which has dropped its last five games, might not be a lock for an NCAA bid.
“This is a different kind of season so far, even for me after all these years,” said Virginia coach Dom Starsia.
No doubt about that.
For the first time since 2004, Virginia is not ranked in either Top 20 poll.
Surprisingly, Starsia said he would still consider the season a success even if UVa failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
“The expectation for the folks around here and the people I work for are that we’re going to be successful in May, and that may or may not happen,” he said. “But I think overall that we’re having a pretty good year.”
Other than not having a couple more wins on the ledger, Starsia doesn’t have many complaints about his team’s performance.
“This team may be playing as close to its potential as any I’ve had in recent memory,” he said. “We actually may be exceeding our expectations.”
Starsia added: “We’re just not quite there now — that’s why we’re not winning. We’re playing really good teams that get excited to play the University of Virginia and we’re just not quite good enough to close the game out.”
Duke (9-4, 1-1) has been closing plenty of games out. After losing four of their first six games, the No. 7 Blue Devils have won seven straight.
Virginia junior Scott McWilliams says avoiding a slow start will be a big key tonight. During its losing streak, UVa has made a habit of falling behind by large deficits early.
“We definitely have to come out a little bit more fired up and get on them right out of the gates,” McWilliams said, “because the past two weeks that came to bite us a little bit.”
Virginia (5-6, 0-2) has outshot its opponent in every game this season, but hasn’t been putting many of its attempts on goal during the slide.
“Personally, I have to shoot a little better,” said UVa sophomore Ryan Tucker. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make a couple shots that I missed.”
Starsia said Duke’s athleticism all over the field is what strikes him the most.
“They’re a big, strong team,” he said. “They run well. They handle the ball well in the offensive box...I think Duke may be the most athletic overall of the teams we’ve seen so far.”
Tucker says there is no mental barrier to overcome against Duke, despite the Cavaliers’ poor track record against the Blue Devils in recent years.
“I don’t think anybody’s thinking about the historic significance of having lost to them [12 out of 13], whatever our record is in the past couple of years,” Tucker said. “It could be our record in the past 100 years and it wouldn’t matter...
“It’s all about this team, this season and this game right now coming up. Hopefully we can just focus on that and get a win.”
Tucker is still confident about Virginia's NCAA Tournament chances.
“You definitely want to make the playoffs every year,” he said. “I have complete faith in our coaches and our team that we can do that.”