In a matchup between one of the nation's best defensemen and one of the country's best scorers, the defender got the edge. And that made all the difference yesterday for Virginia in winning the NCAA Division I lacrosse championship over Syracuse.
Virginia defenseman Ryan Curtis shut down Syracuse's Ryan Powell for much of the game. In addition, defensemen Court Weisleder and Doug Davies kept Orange attackmen Liam Banks and Matt Cutia quiet as the Cavaliers defense helped end the school's 27-year championship drought with a 12-10 victory at Byrd Stadium.
Powell entered the game with 37 goals and 44 assists in the eighth-seeded Orangemen's first 16 games. Pursued for much of the game by Curtis, he had two goals and two assists yesterday. Hampered by a lower back injury suffered in a semifinal victory over Georgetown, Powell had one point through three quarters. He scored both goals during a six-goal spurt in the fourth quarter as the Orangemen were trying to rally.
"That's sort of your marquee matchup," Virginia Coach Dom Starsia said of Curtis's work on Powell. "We were able to keep Ryan Powell under control and [I think] a lot of their offense runs through him."
The back injury appeared to bother Powell, who didn't often drive to the goal. Later, he said he would have picked his spots even if he were feeling fine.
"Ryan Curtis is probably the best defenseman in the country, and I had to be very smart," Powell said. "I wasn't going to push the issue."
Cutia, who entered the game with 78 points, had two goals and one assist, but Weisleder, who was named to the all-tournament team, helped hold him scoreless until the final quarter. Banks had been on a postseason roll, but Davies silenced him until he scored two of his three points in the fourth quarter.
Freshman goalie Derek Kenney, who made 12 saves, made some of the biggest after Syracuse cut the lead to 10-9 with 3 minutes 36 seconds remaining. He had two key stops at a time when overtime was beginning to seem like a very real possibility.
"For three quarters, we played the best we've ever played on defense," Kenney said. "Our defense played together as a team."
Starsia said he liked how his midfielders cut off Syracuse's transition game. The Orangemen defeated Virginia, 14-12, earlier this season, and Starsia said he wanted to slow the pace and play Syracuse 6-on-6 in the box.
The Cavaliers also got help from several others on defense, including Peter Ragosa, freshman Mark Koontz, Doug Worthen and John Harvey.
"It can't be just Ryan Curtis with Derek Kenney," Starsia said. "I've always said that team defense at this level is a group activity."