The Coach Dom Starsia and University of Virginia enter Final Four play at an impressive 15-2, with the Cavaliers only two losses coming as lop-sided affairs against Duke. But Virginia has been on the other side of such scores in their last two playoff games, beating opponents by a combined 37-14. The Wahoos are many prognosticators’ favorites to win it all, playing their best lacrosse coming into the final weekend.
Below are selected quotes from Starsia’s pre-tournament conference call with the media.
General statement about the season:
We’re just really proud and humble to be headed back to the semifinals again. It’s been a long season for us. Our kids have been through a lot, and we clearly have been playing a little bit better these first two playoff games, and hope we can continue with that trend as we move forward here. We look forward to a great game with a great opponent. Back from my old roots back at Brown, I have great respect for the Cornell program, always have, and will tell you frankly, in a lot of ways I may have modeled how I like my teams to play [from] when I first watched those Richie Moran Cornell teams in the mid to late seventies…Jeff [Tambroni]’s got his group playing really well right now, and I expect a great game on Saturday.
Looking at the regular season game between UVa and Cornell, what changes have you seen in each team since then?
In Cornell I see a team playing right now with sort of the confidence of a team that’s had a very successful regular season. You watch them in the game against Princeton and just great determination, and sort of just great confidence in who they’ve become over the course of the season . Personnel hasn’t changed dramatically, they’ve settled in the goal it appears, and they’re getting some good play from [Jake] Meyers. … I don’t see the formula changing a great deal. I still think their lead guys are still the guys that are going to have to carry the play for them, certainly that’s where our attention has to be paid, but I just see them as more comfortable in their own scheme of doing things now and a team that is playing with a great deal of confidence.
After those defeats to Duke, what did you see in your guys that has changed from that to the potent team you are now?
I’m not sure I know exactly what the answer is. I don’t think it’s a simple thing. What I will tell you is, one: I have a veteran team; I have a bunch of quality older guys on the team, and two: this is a group that I really like. I have enjoyed this team as much as any, and I like the personality of this team. When the regular season ended we had been, frankly, punched in the nose pretty good, and we rocked back on our heels. It may have been a little bit of fear mixed in with the disappointment of how it ended and the increased focus of knowing that we were about to start the playoffs, so parts of all of that were there….We had a little bit of a different edge in practice. We asked for a little bit more in practice than we typically do this time of the year, and the kids responded to that. The team made some sacrifices, asked some things of themselves that were a little bit extraordinary for kids, so everybody sort of got on the same page and just knew that we needed to get back to work. The only way to evaluate how you used the time is how you played afterwards, and certainly we’ve come out of the blocks here, you’d say that the time was fairly well spent. There was no waving of a magic wand or anything like that. It came down to doing the best we could and getting back to the fundamentals on the practice field. We also were able to give them a couple days off, which I think they really appreciated…We’ve had a chance to catch our breath and just got back to work in preparation in the start of the playoffs.
The team has great offensive production, but also balanced offensive production, (top scorers of 60, 57, 55, 41, and 39 points). Is that by design or happenstance?
You look at any one of these teams and you have to have balanced scoring. In Danny Glading we have a leading offensive player certainly, but people wanted to compare us to 2006. I don’t think we are as deep offensively as that team was. We didn’t have as many lead guys that could make things happen throughout the course of this season [this year], so having some balance has been really, really important. We need to kind of be able to attack you from every position in order to be good enough offensively. So it’s always part of my plan to have good offensive players, it doesn’t always work out that way. In the growth of this program in the last year or two has been the maturation of our midfield as much as anything…Those guys beginning to assert themselves has made us a more dangerous lacrosse team, we certainly needed that to happen.
Despite the storied histories of both Virginia and Cornell, this is only the eighth time these two teams have played since 1971. Is it then rare that you see each other twice this year (Virginia took the regular season contest 14-10) ?
These things happen sometimes, for whatever reason our paths never crossed. When I got here we inherited a fairly full schedule of games. We added Syracuse when I first got to Virginia, that was one of the things I really wanted to do, so we never got a chance to add Cornell to the schedule….When Princeton dropped us this past year, Jeff was one of the first people I called because we really wanted to get another quality team on the schedule. I’ve always had great respect for Cornell. I feel like it’s a team that clearly gets our players’ attention. I think it’s going to turn into an exciting rivalry
Down the sideline from Starsia, Coach Jeff Tambroni will be leading his Cornell Big Red in the Final Four for the second time. The Big Red may have had the most challenging run to Foxboro in 2009, toppling first Hofstra, then Princeton, a team some picked to play in the championship. The Big Red amassed a 12-3 record behind solid senior leadership, steadfast defensive play, and big time contributions from some young offensive stars. They will need all three again to topple a foe as formidable as the University of Virginia.
Below are selected quotes from Tambroni’s pre-tournament conference call with the media.
General statement about the season:
Our program is thrilled to be back in this stage, excited about the effort that our guys have shown over the last couple of weeks, and hope we can make the most of this opportunity. We really enjoyed the opportunity back in 2007, and hope we can make a little more of it this year in 2009.
You saw Virginia earlier in the year, but what do you see different with this team now as you head into this game?
They seem to be playing with a lot of confidence, a sense of urgency now that it’s playoff time. They really seem to be playing well together. I think the chemistry of this group is one thing that stands out. At both ends of the field, the defensive and the offensive end, really seem to be feeding off each other and playing very well together, looking to each other on the offensive end, sliding to each other on the defensive end, they seem to be playing their best lacrosse this time of the year.
The Princeton game was a real defensive battle and very low scoring. How did it play out as such? What do you do defensively against UVa?
The Princeton game, you have to give credit to both teams’ defensive schemes and defensive units. Both teams’ offenses were scoring double-digit goals throughout the course of the season and had a lot of firepower coming in. I think it was more about how well the defenses played versus how poorly the offenses played. I wouldn’t have thought it was going to be that low scoring of a game, I would have thought single digits, but maybe like a 9-7, 10-8, that kind of a score, but both teams played extremely well defensively and made it very difficult for their opponents to even generate shots, let alone goals. So against Virginia, I think were’ going to have to do a lot of the same defensively. We’re really going to have to concern ourselves with our defensive scheme and less about every single match-up or individual they put on the field. They are so deep…If you spend sleepless nights worrying about how you’re going to defend each and every guy up and down the roster and how you’re going to defend each and every individual, you’re going to have a very difficult task, and with three days really to prepare before you head out, it’s just not possible to create every scenario for every player. We’re going to have to play well as a team on both ends of the field, both offensively and defensively, if we’re going to have a chance to generate success or the success we’re going to need to win this game.
Virginia is very deep. Are you going to just stick to the basics against them defensively then?
Virginia, just athletically, they seem to just stand above everybody in college lacrosse. I think that’s what we said when we left the Naval Academy watching their game against Johns Hopkins, is these guys can beat you from all six spots, and if you pay too much attention to any one of them, somebody else is going to beat you. You have to do a great job of getting your guys to buy into a system defensively and make sure that you try to stay as much as you can one step ahead of the dodge or each pass, and if you do that then you put yourself in a position to be successful. If you don’t and you start relying on one or two guys, and you do a great job against them, that doesn’t always lead to success against a team like Virginia whose got so many weapons.
Cornell has a strong Long Island base of John Glynn (Lindenhurst, NY), Max Seibald (Hewlett, NY), and Rob Pannell (Smithtown, NY). How have those guys contributed to the team this year?
Those guys, have done it for us all year. We’ve had a lot of different guys step up, but it was so nice to see those guys play the way they did coming back down to [Long] Island last weekend. Their leadership on and off the field has been instrumental in our team’s opportunity to advance to the Final Four. Each one of those guys does something a little bit different for us. Max is the consummate leader on and off the field. Well said is better than well done with Max…and he just competes and plays at such a high level. John Glynn, just a two-way, throwback type of a middie. He does so much for us through the middle of the field, and just provides that spark for us in terms of mentality. He’s just a blue-collar kid, provides a lot of possession times for us, and in the Princeton game also sparked us with a huge goal in that second quarter. And then Rob Pannell, for a freshman, he’s really become the leader of our offense. He’s a guy that’s quarterbacked the offense. Even though we’ve had so much at the midfield with Max and John and Rocco, three seniors starting, he’s the guy that probably controls the pace, the tempo, the design of our offense more than anybody. He’s done a great job, and all those guys have really contributed so much to this year’s success. We clearly could not have done it, or certainly could not have been where we are today without that trio.
Cornell and Virginia square off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday following the conclusion of the Syracuse-v-Duke game. Both games will be aired on ESPN2.