Starsia gazing: Lax coach savors national title
Head coach Dom Starsia knew for sure his team had the NCAA lacrosse championship under control when players dumped the Gatorade bucket full of ice water on his head with two minutes left to play.
"It was a shock and freaking cold," says Starsia, describing his icy baptism on the way to the 15-7 victory. He's been doused once before, when his team claimed the title in 2003. "It's not a requirement," he says. "It would be okay with me if they did away with it." As if.
The Cavaliers' Memorial Day triumph over the UMass Minutemen and the Cavs' 17-0 record made UVA the first undefeated team in NCAA lacrosse history. It was a welcome end to a difficult 2006 lacrosse season.
The Albemarle High team had to bow out of its championship run after player Nolan Jenkins died May 14 in an alcohol-related wreck. And the image of the sport took a beating nationally with the scandal at Duke University, which fired its coach and killed its season after a stripper alleged three players raped her.
"College lacrosse is a small community," says Starsia. "Something that affects them affects us. There was lots to apply to our own situation."
The feeding frenzy only exacerbated some stereotypes that Starsia believes are unfairly applied to lacrosse: preppy, white, and elitist.
"I'm a public school guy," he declares, but he then concedes that lacrosse is still predominantly Caucasian. "But it's more diverse now, and I don't think the sport has been preppy for a long time."
Although he was raised on Long Island, a traditional lacrosse incubator, Starsia had never played the sport when he went to Brown University to play football. As the first in his family to leave home for an Ivy League school, he says, "I'm supposed to be a doctor or lawyer right now."
But something else happened. "The planets came together when I first stepped onto the lacrosse field at Brown," says the coach, whose history degree was in American civilization. He was immediately fascinated with the Native American game. "It's the oldest American sport," he explains.
Starsia never looked back at the gridiron, and when he graduated, he was hired to coach lacrosse and soccer– another sport he'd never played.
Starsia describes lacrosse as "ice hockey with cleats." It's an easy game to learn, and it has lots of scoring, plus the added bonus of "guys whacking each other with sticks," he says. "People like that."
The coach, chatting in his corner office in the McCue Center, dispels yet another misperception about the game. "Of all sports in the NCAA, lacrosse players graduate at the highest rate," he says. "No one's coming here to be a professional lacrosse player."
After 32 years in college coaching– 24 as a head coach– Starsia still likes the challenge of taking 40 college guys and "trying to get them lined up to go in the same direction. There's deep satisfaction and joy when that happens."
Seniors on the team missed graduation because they were playing Georgetown in the NCAA quarterfinals, and because the team never got a chance to revel in its victory, that celebration is going to happen this fall.
Starsia denies being superstitious, but he confesses he broke in a new pair of pants at the season's first game. "They didn't get washed until after the championship," he says. And as for the "ratty old hat" he wore all season– that's now in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
In the cycle that is a coach's life, he barely has time to savor his team's national victory before he begins looking forward to next season.
He's going to need a new hat.
Why here? Job opportunity
What's worst about living here? Summer humidity
Favorite hangout? My office
Most overrated virtue? Piety
People would be surprised to know: I exercise every day.
What would you change about yourself? I'd lose 25 pounds.
Proudest accomplishment? Breaking one hour in the Turkey Trot with my twin daughters
People find most annoying about you: I'm moody at times.
Whom do you admire? My assistant, Marc Van Arsdale
Favorite book? Grapes of Wrath
Subject that causes you to rant? Politics
Biggest 21st-century thrill? My daughter's wedding
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Face Book
What do you drive? Ford station wagon
In your car CD player right now: Neil Young's Prairie Wind
Next journey? To DC for the Tewaaraton dinner
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I'm pleading the Fifth here.
Regret: Not serving in the armed forces
Favorite comfort food: Popcorn
Always in your refrigerator: Cheese
Must-see TV: Saturday Night Live
Favorite cartoon: Doonesbury
Describe a perfect day. Sleep well, exercise, swim, win a national championship, BBQ with family and friends
Walter Mitty fantasy: Being a singer/songwriter
Who'd play you in the movie? I used to think it would be Tom Selleck. Now it's more likely to be Brian Dennehy.
Most embarrassing moment? Sweating through a wedding tuxedo
Best advice you ever got? You are responsible for your own life.
Favorite bumper sticker? Visualize Whirled Peas
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO