Virginia Eyes ACC Title, Anchored by Veteran Midfield

PHOTO BY GREG WALL

Maggie Jackson returns after leading the team with 74 points on 41 goals and 33 assists.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 13 Virginia

Coach: Julie Myers (23rd season)
Team’s All-Time Record: 504-216-5
NCAA Appearances: 29
Final Fours: 9
Championships: 3
2017 Overall Record: 12-9, 4-3 ACC

Virginia women’s lacrosse showed flashes of being a national contender last season, exploding on offense in victories over Notre Dame and Duke in ACC play. But the inconsistency bug bit the Cavaliers, who dropped games against North Carolina and Boston College by a total of 17 goals. 

Although they qualified for the NCAA tournament at 12-9 and finished with a winning record in the ACC — arguably the top conference in women’s lacrosse — the Cavaliers struggled to maintain their efficiency on both sides of the field. As most of its attack unit and a couple defensive starters graduated, coach Julie Myers and Virginia are looking for the returning group to generate and keep the momentum going.

“We had huge games last year where we put up big numbers and played stingy defense,” Myers said. “Our Duke and Notre Dame games, we had breakout games. I’m looking for us to have that level of effort and execution, but adding some more consistency to it. That consistency piece is really what we need to grow on, really building off of some of our peak performances last year.”

For Virginia to succeed this season, it will need to get production from its midfield core —senior Kasey Behr, junior Maggie Jackson, sophomore Sammy Mueller — which made up three of the team’s top five scorers from last season. Jackson led the team last season with 74 points and Mueller was voted ACC Freshman of the Year. 

Along with goalie Rachel Vander Kolk, the midfield line will be looked to not only produce, but lead. With 12 freshmen coming to Charlottesville, development will be key for this team to get off to a good start.

“Lots of games and minutes under their belts and it’s cool to have a second, third and fourth year in that midfield along the way, that lean on each other and push each other,” Myers said of the midfield unit. “I love that they’re different years, because it pulls everyone else in as well and there’s somebody on that midfield line that they all identify with. Those kids are going to be the catalysts to our success and what we are able to do consistency-wise.”

There are certainly holes to fill on the attack unit and defense, but Myers said she’s confident she has the players willing to step in at a moment's notice. The flexibility might even create an advantage in terms of playing to the opposing teams' schemes.

“We do have different skill sets that can really blend in well,” she said. “If we’re playing a high-pressure man defense, that may lend itself better to [junior defender] Alex Shields. But if we’re playing a team defense like a backer or a zone, that might lend itself better to someone else.”

Virginia’s senior class has not been to a final four. With a core that will enjoy another year together, the Cavaliers are hoping to take a step in that direction soon, if not in 2018.







The Case For Virginia

The Cavaliers return four of their top five scorers, including leading scorer Maggie Jackson. Jackson leads a midfield group that features Kasey Behr and Sammy Mueller, who will form a productive unit that will be leaned on this season. With an ACC that is always talented, but top teams not improving significantly, Virginia has a chance to compete. If the offense can do its part and Rachel Vander Kolk can stay strong in goal, the Cavaliers have a shot to stay at the top of the ACC.

The Case Against Virginia

Although Virginia will welcome back much of its offensive unit, it loses attackers like Kelly Reese, Besser Dyson and Posey Valis. It will be tough to replace a group of attackers, including Dyson, whom Myers called the “quarterback” of the offense for the better part of four seasons. Not to mention, defenders Wyatt Whitley and Maggie Preas are gone. It doesn’t help that some of the top teams in the country call the ACC home.

Path to the Playoffs

Virginia is as accustomed to making the NCAA tournament as any team in Division I women’s lacrosse. After finishing 4-3 in the ACC and winning 12 games last year, there’s reason to believe this team should make the tournament in 2018. However, Myers has her sights set on an ACC title. If the Cavaliers can pull off wins over teams like North Carolina, Boston College or Syracuse, they could have a shot at competing for a title.

Players To Watch

Maggie Jackson, M, Jr.

74 points, 57 GB, 71 DC, 33 CT

Maggie Jackson led UVA in points, ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers, the lone player in the ACC to do so in all four categories. She also led the ACC with 2.71 ground balls per game. She had 33 assists to go along with 41 goals. Jackson is a tough player that is battling for every draw or ground ball. She runs the field well and has a quick shot. She is able to create opportunities for her teammates and get them the ball.

Kasey Behr, M, Sr.

39 DC, 24 CT, 33 G

Behr is the strongest player on the field and can take a shot from anywhere. She almost always takes the draw control.

Sammy Mueller, M, So.

37 G, 40 points, 50 GB, 27 CT

The ACC Freshman of the Year, Mueller brings another offensive weapon that can score from any angle and draws a lot of defensive coverage.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 45th 12.19 GPG
Defense 50th 11.71 GAA
Draws 46th 13.00/game
Ground Balls 22nd 20.10/game
Caused TO 33rd 10.05/game
Shooting 103rd 36.6%
FP Percentage 98th 34.4%
Yellow Cards 28th 33
Assists 57th 5.10/game
Turnovers 20th 15.29/game
Shots 13th 33.29/game

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐

Draw
⭐⭐⭐⭐

4

Four of the top five scorers return from the 2017 roster.

5-Year Trend
Scoring Offense

Year

Rank

Per Game

2013 56th 10.48
2014 16th 13.05
2015 19th 12.84
2016 T-50th 10.50
2017 45th 12.19

Coach Confidential
Julie Myers

“We want to be in the hunt for the ACC championship and that title game. To be able to do that, you have to take care of the regular season. I would put us in the hunt and in the top half, really challenging to be that top program.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

"Lots of talent, but needs to find a winning formula in Charlottesville. ... Strong midfield unit and great on the draw. ... Power offense and physical. Tough to stop this team. ... Talent is never the issue with the Cavaliers. ... Jackson, Baher, and Besser lead the Wahoos. ... Strong midfield – they will go as the middies go. ... Always well-coached and has solid offense. The defense will predict their success."

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