2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 11 Virginia (Women)

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

Annie Dyson led Virginia in draws (56), scooped 34 ground balls and had 14 caused turnovers, while tossing in 35 points.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 11 VIRGINIA

2021 Record: 9-9 (3-7 ACC)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 11
Coach: Julie Myers (27th season)

Can the defense hold the line?

Coach Julie Myers has a monumental task as she looks to rebuild a defense that graduated its goalie and three key contributors while facing an ACC rife with offensive firepower.

And it’s going to have to happen quickly, because indications from the fall show there’s room for improvement.

“We need to get better at defense, make stops and frustrate teams’ attacks,” Myers said. “We didn’t do that tremendously well over the fall. We rotated a lot getting used to that new role. We are going to have to get better.”

Nevertheless, help is on the way as Myers is set to plug in midfielder Nina Garfinkel as the team’s faceguard once again, while Northwestern graduate transfer Megan Gordon has arrived in Charlottesville, too.

“Nina has the most experience on defense,” Myers said. “She will anchor us, and we’ll build around her. [Gordon] admittedly hasn’t seen a lot of time. She’s spunky and fiery. I love her fire, attitude and commitment to get it done. Our middies will have to step up [on defense].”

In net, three-year starter Charlie Campbell has graduated, leaving the cage open for a trio of young players to vie for time — sophomore Aislinn McCarthy (nine appearances, 142 minutes), freshman Ashley West and East Carolina junior transfer Ashley Vernon (24 starts, 39.8 save percentage).

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

A solution to ease the burden on the new goalie will be to insert dynamic midfielders on defense and contain the draw on restarts. Leading that charge will be Annie Dyson, a Tewaaraton Top 25 player in 2021.

Dyson, a senior who has been hampered with injuries in the past, will look to find the balance between training hard for performance, but not overtraining. Between the pandemic and injuries, Dyson didn’t compete in an ACC game until last spring, despite being in Charlottesville since 2019.

Her contributions to the attack are known: 33 goals and 17 assists in 28 total appearances. She can draw defenders and dish or drive straight to net. Myers is hoping to expand her role on the draws, too.

“The more dynamic she can make her stick, and dodge both ways, is going to be really important,” Myers said. “She has the competitive fire and spirit that everyone rallies around. I’d like her to get more involved in the draw circle. She won’t be taking many, but she needs to be around the ball.”

Helping Virginia’s scoring cause will be 2021’s leading scorer Ashlyn McGovern, who ripped off eight hat tricks and netted 38 goals as a junior. Now she needs to add another dimension to her game.

“She was kind of one-dimensional [last year],” Myers said. “We have her involved in two-player games. We want her to distribute and assist goals, so we’ve challenged her in different ways, and she likes every challenge. She’s resilient and eager.”

What might be most important to Virginia’s offense is who’s running it: long-time assistant Colleen Shearer has returned.

The 2010 IWLCA National Assistant Coach of the Year, Shearer had spent 19 seasons on Myers’ staff until taking the Bridgewater College head coaching job in 2017. She served as a volunteer coach for James Madison’s 2018 NCAA championship team and after two years as a volunteer assistant for Richmond, she’s back to run the Cavalier offense.

And as fortune would have it, Shearer and Myers have daughters who are playing collegiately this year as opponents against the Cavs. On Feb. 27, Kelsey Myers and the Stanford Cardinal will travel to Charlottesville, while Mattie Shearer’s Duke Blue Devils are set for their annual ACC game against Virginia in the spring.






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TOP RETURNERS

Annie Dyson, M, Sr.

A Tewaaraton Top 25 player a year ago, Dyson’s midfield play will be most needed in defense and on the circle. Last year, she led the team in draws (56), scooped 34 ground balls and had 14 caused turnovers, while tossing in 35 points. But, as noted above, there could be even more defense in her future as the team looks to fortify that end of the field.

Ashlyn McGovern, A, Sr.

Virginia’s offensive lynchpin, McGovern ranked ninth in the ACC last season in goals per game, but she’ll need to diversify her offense in 2022. Expect a heavy dose of goals from McGovern in 2022, with Virginia putting the ball in the sticks of one of their best weapons.

Mackenzie Hoeg, M, So.

The younger sister of UNC record-holder Katie Hoeg, Mackenzie Hoeg will once again be the team’s primary draw taker. Expect her offensive numbers to go up as well after scoring 19 times and dishing 10 assists. A facilitator during her time at Mattituck (N.Y.) High School, if she can find her niche as the quarterback of the Cavaliers, good things could happen.

KEY ADDITION

Megan Gordon, D, Gr.

For a team that needs defensive experience, Gordon fills the void after transferring from Northwestern. Although she appeared in just 15 games the past two seasons, she was a regular starter as a freshman and has 51 total appearances.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Ellena Schildmeyer, M, So.

Schildmeyer played two games last year as a freshman, but she’ll be thrust into the defensive scheme in 2022. “She just finds a way to get things done,” Myers said. “She’s a magnet for communicating on and off the field. I think she can light a fire. Her personality lends itself to that.”

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Cavaliers:

“I’ll be very curious about the rehiring of Colleen Shearer. Any coach knows that she’s a really incredible coach. I just don’t think that I can take a look at Virginia film and predict exactly what they’re going to look like this year. I think that them bringing Colleen back on staff is going to do a ton for them offensively. You just can never, ever count them out. That coaching staff, every year, they’re going to upset someone, they’re going to be solid. That’s a huge game for us to learn from, and it’d be a huge, huge win if we can pull it off.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

3.99%

The Cavaliers return a lot of their rotation from last year, so it’s not as if there are a lot of open holes in the roster. Still, I’ll be watching to see if Jaime Biskup gets some more opportunities. Her 3.99 usage-adjusted EGA puts her in the top 1 percent of the most efficient players in Division I women’s lacrosse. — Zack Capozzi

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