Virginia Cavaliers: 9-5, #6 seed, 2-2 last four games (impressive 11-2 victory over UPenn to close out the season. Keep in mind that game was won without the Bratton brothers.)
Leading Scorer: Jr. Steele Stanwick, 23 goals, 26 assists
Bucknell Bison: 14-2, Winner of the Patriot League, 4-0 last four games (Beat Colgate for the second time to win the Patriot League by the score of 10-3).
Leading Scorer: Sr. Ryan Klipstein, 30 goals, 19 assists
Its been a long and winding road for the Virginia Cavaliers seniors, who were rated as Inside Lacrosse's best freshmen class of 2007. Coach Dom Starsia's squad has always had the talent and potential but a series of timely errors year-in and year-out have cost the Wahoo's a chance at Memorial Day jubilation.
Still, with a 9-5 record, the 2011 Virginia Cavaliers are scary. Led by junior Steele Stanwick, the offense brings it every week. That isn't something to worry about as a 'Hoos fan. The Achilles' Heel for the team the entire season will be close defense. A younger group in 2011, can these kids take the pressure of the NCAA Tournament?
The move of Bray Malphrus from long stick midfielder to close defense has been a nice adjustment. Having the senior in front of fellow senior goalie Adam Ghitelman will be necessary against an underrated Bucknell offense.
As I said earlier, there's no doubt the Cavaliers can and will score. Stanwick quarterbacks the offense and junior Chris Bocklet is the quintessential finisher. Tallying 33 goals in 2011, Bocklett is a great off-ball dodger and is a speedy attackman who has the ability to beat you one-on-one.
Yes, Virginia most likely will be playing without both Bratton brothers (definitely Shamel), but they have proven that it was never a one or two man show.
In the 11-2 season finale victory over Penn, eight different players scored and that didn't include Stanwick, although he dished out five assists. John Haldy and Rob Emery have been a breath of fresh air for Starsia as they have played integral roles on this Cavalier offense and will find their responsibilities increased on Sunday.
Chris LaPierre is a force to be reckoned with. The do-it-all midfielder will come at you from many different parts of the field and isn't afraid to use his body. He can also play defense, which will be key as Bucknell has a good transition offense.
The Cavs scored close to 13 goals per game, so that is their saving grace.
As for the Bison offense, they scored just over 10 goals per game. Led by the senior midfielder Klipstein, this is a team that really distributes the ball well. A very balanced offense, they must move the ball and hope their outside shooting can find some open shots.
The Patriot League wasn't a joke in 2011 and Bucknell proved they were the cream of the crop as they went 6-0 in the conference. The Bison play some great defense. Led by goalie Kyle Feeney, the sophomore and his defense only gave up seven goals per game. Feeney also had a save percentage of 55.6.
This is still one of the harder games for me to decide because it balances out very well. While I believe the Cavalier offense will carry them to victory, I see the Bison defense keeping it very close. I think when you throw in home field advantage and the fact that the Virginia seniors have played in this environment before, that plays a major role.
Stanwick plays like a savvy veteran and can take control of a game. I see that happening on Sunday and I see the Cavaliers pulling out a 10-8 victory. Bucknell will come out strong, but will fade late in the game as this is their first time in the tournament in quite some time.
They will keep it close and have a chance for the upset, but in the end, this Virginia team is still a team that was picked to play on Memorial Day back in January.