Many are confused as to why the Virginia Cavaliers, while able to win national championships and stomp out seemingly anyone in their path, are unable to win against Duke. How does a team that loses 12 of 13 matchups to an ACC rival manage to win 2 national championships during that time, while the other only wins one?
It is an interesting question to be sure, and certainly there are several possible reasons why, leading to what at this point is an evident mental block on Virginia’s part, and a feeling of inevitability from the Blue Devils.
I postulate that the answer is quite simple: Size.
The individual physical discrepancies in size between Virginia and Duke are one possible reason that Virginia simply can’t get the job done. A look at the numbers:
Obviously it is most common for defenders to be larger than attackmen. And with Virginia’s talent, the players have certainly learned how to use their speed, quickness, and intelligence to thwart the efforts of their larger counterparts.
But Duke plays a high-risk, pressuring and physical style of defense, that not only is intimidating for opposing players, but wears them down as the game goes on. Late in the season, when many players are already nursing some form of minor injury, the Duke physical style of play is rude and imposing. Add to the mix for the Blue Devils C.J. Costabile (6’1”, 197) roaming the entire field – the smallest of the starting Duke defenders – and even the best players in the country will have a rough day ahead of them.
Duke defenders hold a 33 lb. advantage over Virginia’s. That’s 33 lbs. that the Duke attackmen (who are relatively small) deal with every day in practice, but don’t have to worry about on game day against the ‘Hoos. Conversely, the also undersized attackmen for Virginia now are faced with 33 extra lbs. of angry Blue Devil bearing down at them. Overall, the Duke roster holds 7 defenders over 200 pounds. Virginia only has 3.
To look at the upcoming matchup with North Carolina, which Virginia won a couple of weeks ago by a margin of 15-10, the size argument holds true when you look at the numbers:
UNC hosts 8 defenders over 200 lbs. on their roster, one more than Duke. But the three starting close defensemen all weigh in at 190. The Tar Heel defense is 17 lbs. lighter than what Stanwick & Co. are used to seeing in practice. This could mean that they are quicker on their feet, which may be true, but as I said before Virginia’s lineup is adept at using their own speed and intelligence to their advantage. UNC’s largest starting defender is LSM Mark Staines (6’4”, 205). The UVA offense was able to penetrate both from the midfield and from the attack against the Heels, leading to their victory two weeks ago. However, the UNC offense continues to improve week by week, and it looks as though they have found their stride with 2 youngsters and 1 veteran at attack:
This is the matchup to watch this afternoon in Charlottesville. The very undersized Tar Heel attack on paper looks like no match. But freshmen Bitter and Sankey have silenced their doubters, exploding in recent weeks to get the UNC offense on track. Virginia will need solid efforts from their usual scorers, and hopefully some extra points from their second and third midfield lines. When they do, they are successful. But if UVA can’t stop Holman, Bitter, and Sankey they could be in for another upset.
Surely there are many reasons contributing to Virginia’s inability to find wins against Duke. This is just one of them.
Looking forward to next year when ‘Cuse joins the ACC mix – 7 of the 10 current Orange defenders are over 200 lbs…