Commentary

Faceoffs, returning players will lead lacrosse preseason No. 1 Virginia

Updated: February 3, 2009, 12:23 PM ET
By Christian Swezey | Inside Lacrosse

As part of its 2009 Preseason Preview, Inside Lacrosse is counting down the top teams from Division I, Division II and Division III men's lacrosse as well as the Division I women, leading up to the first faceoff on Feb. 7. Today we take a look at the Virginia Cavaliers men's side, ranked No. 1.

Five Things to Know

Injury Update
Senior attacks Danny Glading (30 goals, 35 assists in 2008) and Garrett Billings (36, 25) and sophomore midfielder Shamel Bratton (14, 4) missed the opening scrimmage of the spring Saturday but are not expected to be out of the lineup much longer. Glading and Billings could have played if it were a regular-season game, coach Dom Starsia said.

[+] EnlargeDon Starsia
Pete Emerson Virginia coach Don Starsia is being cautious with players returning from injury.

Bratton's injury, believed to be a hamstring injury, is not expected to hold him out much longer. "It's a long season," Starsia said. "We didn't want them to aggravate those injuries."

Not a Deep D
Sophomore defenseman Matt Lovejoy is likely out for the year after he had ankle surgery late last week. Lovejoy, a physical defender, was expected to be the main backup to starters Matt Kelly, Ken Clausen and Ryan Nizolek. His injury means the main backup, at least for the first couple of months, will be one of the longstick middies -- either senior Mike Timms or sophomore Bray Malphrus.

Lovejoy will be able to workout again in early March. The coaches said they will evaluate his progress then before making a final determination about his status.

About Face
Fifth-year senior Chad Gaudet won 10 of 10 faceoffs in the opening scrimmage, against Navy on Saturday. His play there was strong enough that sophomore Garret Ince, who finished last year as the primary face-off man, did not take his first faceoff Saturday until 10 minutes remained in the fourth quarter.

A Starting Spot
Steele Stanwick is the next in a long line of Virginia freshmen who will start on attack. The list includes Glading, Ben Rubeor, Matt Ward, John Christmas, Conor Gill, Doug Knight, Michael Watson, Tim Whiteley, Drew McKnight and Kevin Pehlke.

Yet Stanwick will be playing on the left wing, even though he is righthanded. He also lacks the physical presence and/or skills of some of his predecessors. Starsia has talked about Stanwick's toughness, especially after Stanwick played with a broken thumb for the second half of his senior year at Loyola Blakefield (Md.). He led the Dons to the MIAA title. And that toughness will come in handy.

Man in the Middle
Junior middie Brian Carroll (28 goals) resumed his role in the middle of the extra man offense in the opening scrimmage. Carroll scored 14 EMO goals last year.

Unit to Watch

Faceoffs
Navy did not take a shot for the first eight-plus minutes of the second quarter Saturday. This was mostly because the Cavaliers won the first four face-offs of the quarter -- three from Gaudet and one from junior Brian McDermott.

[+] EnlargeAdam Ghitelman
Pete EmersonSophomore Adam Ghitelman should take over in goal.

Gaudet's performance Saturday was a marked contrast to Virginia's face offs in 2008. Then, the team won around 50 percent of faceoffs. Overall, the Cavaliers have not had a player win more than 60 percent since 2000 (Jason Hard).

Gaudet won 144 of 257 faceoffs (56 percent) last year at Dartmouth. He is a rarity in that his faceoffs are with a longstick. When he takes a faceoff and Timms is on a wing, the Cavaliers have to put a shortstick player on close defense. Sophomores Rhamel Bratton and Chris Clements and redshirt junior Max Pomper filled that role Saturday.

The Cavaliers also have to be careful about being called for too many longsticks on the field with Gaudet in the game. Once his shift is over, he has to leave the field via the sideline rather than midfield; the Cavaliers would risk having too many longsticks otherwise.

Player to Watch

Sophomore goalie Adam Ghitelman is the main, if not only, option this year. Ghitelman has a 9-1 career record. Yet his overall numbers (10.18 goals against average, 49.7 save percentage) caused him to be replaced midway through the season by Bud Petit, a fifth-year senior last year. Virginia's defense will be more settled and the expected increase -- possibly a significant one -- in faceoffs will help, too.

The biggest early test will be the trip to Syracuse's Carrier Dome on Feb. 27. Virginia has not played there since 2005 and opposing goalies playing there for the first time have noted that the metallic bleachers form a difficult backdrop.

Burning Question

Is Virginia Deep Enough?
There's one main option in goal. The No. 4 close defenseman is a longstick middie. The attack at times in the opening scrimmage featured three freshmen.

And when senior Steve Giannone (9 goals) moved to the first midfield Saturday, the second unit provided one goal (from sophomore Nick Elsmo).

The starting unit features an abundance of talent. But an injury to the wrong person or in the wrong spot, and Virginia would appear to be in trouble.

The schedule is an advantage. Of the first nine games, only two are against teams that made the NCAA tournament last year (Syracuse and Cornell). So the freshmen attackmen and longstick middies playing close and second-line midfielders will have had plenty of seasoning by the time the ACC teams and Johns Hopkins appear on the schedule.

For the complete Virginia men's lacrosse preview, go to Inside Lacrosse.