For Dom Starsia, the summer
of his content
Dom Starsia (center), being more candid with his players has
By Dan Heuchert
desk in his bright, sunny corner office at the McCue Center holds
a thick stack of congratulatory notes, received in the aftermath
of coaching U.Va. to its second NCAA mens lacrosse title
in the past five years. The championship trophy rests conspicuously
on a bookcase behind him, where potential recruits cant
miss it. Starsia, dressed casually, smiles easily these days.
two seems like it has been more noticed, he said, attributing
the increased response to national television coverage and the
record crowds that watched the Final Four in Baltimore. A
lot of old friends have been back in touch.
championships have indeed been popular in the tight-knit lacrosse
world, where many of the players, coaches and fans hail from a
handful of Northeastern private schools. Starsia is regarded as
one of the sports good guys and rightfully so; hes
affable, enthusiastic and approachable. His former players love
him. Even his top assistant, Marc Van Arsdale, was happy to return
to his former post at Virginia after a stint as the head coach
at Pennsylvania. We have such a good relationship,
he said. Working with Dom is a whole lot more working
with than working for.
his part, Starsia insists, Im not really that nice.)
All-Ivy League and All-
New England defense
man, 1973 and 74
A member of the Brown University Athletic Hall of Fame and
New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
10 seasons as head
Compiled record of 101
wins and 46 losses
Two Ivy League titles
Five NCAA tournament
Two national coach of
the year awards
11 seasons as head
Compiled record of 125
wins and 42 losses
11 NCAA tournament
Two NCAA champi-
Four ACC titles
Teams have produced
39 All-ACC selections
n Six ACC Rookies of the
Five ACC Players of the
and his wife, Kristin Lasagna, are also respected as the parents
of developmentally delayed twin girls, a circumstance that he
says tempers his competitiveness. They dont care if
we win or lose, he said. I dont find myself
absolutely consumed with winning and losing.
have the same narrow fire burning as some of his coaching
also earns popularity points for having paid his dues. After taking
up the sport as a freshman at Brown University, he became one
of the top players in school history. He then worked his way up
the coaching ladder, finally becoming Browns head coach
in 1983. After 10 seasons there, he took on the unenviable task
of succeeding longtime U.Va. coach Jim Adams. In 1994 and 1996,
Starsias Cavalier teams reached the NCAA final, only to
lose to Princeton by a single goal each time.
he can say, We did everything right but score the last goal.
But the narrow defeats led to
summers of self-questioning. Should he get tough and become more
of a disciplinarian like some of the great coaches in other sports
Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Woody Hayes?
says he was not tortured by those thoughts. In fact, he welcomed
them. There is value in the self-examination that comes
with losing, he said.
the end, he did change, although both he and Van Arsdale say the
alterations have been more subtle than precipitous. But if there
is one event to point to as a catalyst, it may have come before
that first championship season.
the fall of 1998, a few of Starsias players were involved
in a series of minor alcohol-linked disciplinary issues. Lacrosse
players have long had a reputation as party-hearty types, Starsia
said, but the incidents led him to question how committed his
team was to playing championship lacrosse. Though he had long
taken a laissez-faire attitude toward off-the-field conduct, he
decided enough is enough and called a preseason team
meeting. I told them they needed to deal with it,
his surprise, the players took up the challenge. They came up
with a series of self-imposed, self-enforced restrictions on in-season
drinking, including an outright ban on alcohol during the season-ending
month of May. When one of the teams leading partyers stood
up and announced that he would be adhering strictly to the rules
and expected them to follow suit, Starsia knew he had something.
results were noticeable, Starsia said. Practices became sharper.
Teammates grew closer, bonding from their shared sacrifice. And
the bounces began to go the Cavaliers way.
team reached the Final Four in College Park, Md., that spring.
I remember it being scorching, the first real hot weekend
of the year, said Conor Gill, one of the teams stars.
impossible to tease out whether the teams off-the-field
abstinence better prepared them for the heat, but Starsia said,
It probably gave us a little bit of an advantage
if not physically, then mentally. The Cavs disposed of Johns Hopkins,
16-11, in the semifinals, then scratched out a 12-10 victory over
Syracuse in the final.
self-imposed party rules became a tradition. It was hard
not to do it after that, Gill said, adding that each team
modifies them a bit each year.
trophy also came as a relief for Starsia. Winning the championship
in 99 gave me self-confidence that other people didnt
think was an issue, he said. Now I worry less that
I should be Bobby Knight and John Wooden. Now I just try to be
Dom Starsia. Its a heck of a lot easier.
not to say that hes become a teddy bear. One of the changes
he does acknowledge is a greater willingness to confront a player
who he believes is wasting his potential. I think Im
more honest than I used to be, he said. Im less
tolerant of behavior that takes away from what were trying
to accomplish as a group.
look at kids that are wasting their time, and more and more I
feel like they need to know that.
willing to challenge his stars as well as the end-of the-benchers.
Chris Rotelli, the fourth-year star of this years championship
team, remembers thinking that he had arrived as a player after
a sensational sophomore year that earned him all-conference honors.
Starsia, however, kept pushing him to improve.
doesnt let guys get comfortable, Rotelli said. He
sees everybodys potential
He doesnt really
sugarcoat anything for you. He expects a lot from players, and
he challenges you. I really like that.
extra effort paid off. My senior year might have had my
biggest improvement overall, Rotelli said. He earned the
Tewaaraton Trophy as the nations best player, and in July
was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Male Athlete of the Year.
[Starsia] was a big part of that.
Gill found Starsia intimidating when he first arrived at U.Va.
but became more comfortable around the coach as he saw different
sides of him. I came to respect him a great deal.
I respect him right up there with my parents.
much as Starsia pushes his players to improve, he also recognizes
when to back off. In 2002, the Cavaliers reached the Final Four,
but were forced to play Syracuse without one of their top players,
who was injured in the previous game.
game was tied after regulation time expired, forcing one sudden-death
overtime, and then another. Finally, Syracuse scored the goal
that broke the tie.
an outstanding season, the mood on the trip from New Jersey back
to Charlottesville was somber. Too somber, Starsia decided. Upon
arrival at University Hall, he held the players on the bus until
they acknowledged their achievements.
the team adopted its motto for the 2003 championship season: