Fuchs Finds Home At Virginia
Apr 30, 2010
Tim Fuchs plays on the Cavaliers' man-up offense. (Photo courtesy Matt Riley, Virginia Athletics Media Relations)
For Tim Fuchs, it was one dream shattered, then another realized.
As a high school senior in Merrick, N.Y., Fuchs longed to attend and play lacrosse at the Naval Academy. But, just when he thought he was set to enroll, there was one minor detail that got in the way: Fuchs is red-green color blind. Ask him to point out the orange lines on UVa's practice field, and Fuchs will tell you that he sees all green. The Naval Academy caught Fuchs' color blindness in a physical exam, and his admission to the school fell through at the last minute.
"I guess they might want you to push the red button, but you push the green button and you do something to mess up everything," Fuchs said. "Or, I shoot my fellow American because I can't tell what color his shirt is."
Already late in the admissions process, Fuchs - still with the desire to play college lacrosse - emailed some 15 college coaches among the lacrosse elite, asking them if they had any extra room in the next year's class, "hoping someone would write back," he said. The only response came from Virginia coach Dom Starsia - who possessed one of the most dominant teams in his tenure when Fuchs was a high school senior in 2006 and the Cavaliers went onto win the National Championship that year.
"I actually came down here to visit two days after that [response]," Fuchs said. "I told him, 'I would love to come here,' and it was him just basically deciding whether he'd have a spot for me."
Ironically, it was another physical attribute that, this time, gave Fuchs an edge. Though color blind, Fuchs - who scored 127 career goals as an attackman at Bishop Kellenberg Memorial High School - is also left-handed.
"As I recall, we were left at the end of the year with having a spot left, and looking for the right player for us," Starsia said. "Frankly, we were looking for an attackman, and in a perfect world the attackman would have been left-handed, and Tim was the right guy. He sent us some film, and we took a look at it, and he was obviously a smart player and quite capable. It was a quick marriage."
Four years later, Fuchs is a contributing player to the 2010 squad. His role, while small, is crucial: he is exclusively on the man-up team, meaning that he only enters the game when Virginia's opponent sends a player out for a penalty. He is not a great dodger - meaning he isn't likely to take an opposing defender one-on-one - but, in the man-up setting, he doesn't need to be. Rather, Fuchs excels in stick skills, catching the ball in traffic, and appropriately swinging the ball to an open teammate or firing on goal - a skill set that uniquely benefits the man-up situations. And, in lacrosse, it always helps to be a southpaw. Fuchs has scored three goals this season and dished two assists.
"In our sport, the lefty gets a disproportionate number of the opportunities, because there are more righties, and the ball kind of gets funneled to the lefty," Starsia said. "So that guy needs to be able to catch in a crowd and score goals. While Tim hasn't scored a lot of goals on the extra man, he's made every play that we've asked him to make. He catches the ball in a crowd, and almost always makes the smart play for us."
In addition, Starsia said, it takes a degree of maturity to be called upon in infrequent yet simultaneously game-changing situations.
"He's got to be mature enough to be able to come off the bench cold and make a play. I can't have you going out there and throwing the ball away, and then turn and look to me and say, 'Coach, I've been sitting for 10 minutes, I'm sorry.' That's the deal, you know?" Starsia said. "There's a certain maturity about that, and being able to handle that, and know what's required in order to make a play the first time you're asked to do so."
It's been a long time coming for Fuchs. This is the first year he's been asked to play a serious role in games; in prior years, he served primarily as a cheerleader from the sidelines while playing behind one of the all-time Cavalier greats in Ben Rubeor as an underclassman and behind Steele Stanwick last season. Though Fuchs scored 8 goals in his first three seasons, they came primarily in blowout games.
"We'd come in in the fourth quarter sometimes and finish off those games that needed to be finished off," said Fuchs of the reserves. "I think just giving support to the guys that are out there the whole game is what I tried to do the most, just get loud for the guys out on the field."
Meanwhile, though, Fuchs did not back down in practice, and tried to soak in as much information as possible from Rubeor - also a left-handed attackman.
"When I got here, I just figured I'd try to learn as much as I can from Ben Rubeor, because he's one of those guys that you just follow what he does," Fuchs said. "I didn't expect to play right when I got in, but I just tried to do whatever I could to make those guys better in practice, and help the team out in any way that I could."
"These things are not always fair, you don't always get what you deserve," Starsia said. "Tim is a mature kid, and I think he understood early that he was going to have to work very hard for a few moments on the field in games. He never stopped bringing a positive attitude and a work ethic to practice."
Three years later, Fuchs is thrilled at his new role. What's more, though he was always a scholarship player, he received a raise in his awarded scholarship money this season. According to fellow senior Max Pomper, it couldn't have happened to a better guy.
"Off the field, he's a great guy, one of the funnier kids I know," Pomper said. "I had an opportunity to go to Spain with Tim and a group of my teammates after my junior year here, and I really got a chance to get to know Tim then. He's an amazing kid, hysterical, kind heart, great guy, and a hard worker."
This Saturday, Virginia will take on Robert Morris on Senior Day, and Fuchs will, on a rare occasion, have his name known to the fans. But, Fuchs has made a lasting impression on Starsia with his work over four years, and Fuchs still hasn't forgotten the good fortune of the one coach who responded to a last-second email.
"It's nice when a boy that has hung in for the right reasons gets a little bit of his just dessert at the very end," Starsia said. "We didn't hand him anything, he's only got what he has earned out here."
"It's probably the best thing that could ever happen to me," Fuchs said of his time at Virginia. "All the relationships I've made have been great. I'll be friends with some of these guys for the rest of my life. Dom has just done a great job of helping me grow up as an individual.
"I feel like I got extremely lucky, and to this day, I still can't believe that I play lacrosse for the University of Virginia."
Two Missions Accomplished, One More To Go
Shamel Bratton and the Cavaliers broke an eight-game losing streak to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
With the Cavaliers' ACC Tournament victory last weekend, Virginia took two weights off its shoulders. The first may mean more to the fans than the players: they beat Duke for the first time in eight tries. Three of those previous losses to the Blue Devils had been in the ACC Tournament in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The last time Virginia won the ACC Championship was in 2006, when Duke ended its season prematurely and did not participate.
"I made the joke originally [after the last loss to Duke] - and I regretted making the joke - I made the joke, a very glib statement, that I'll probably be alive the next time we meet Duke," Starsia said. "Frankly, I don't want to take anything for granted. But, it was likely to happen sometime, and maybe even next year, they graduate so many kids. But, in that locker room on the Monday after that first Duke game, I said, 'No, this is the Duke team I want to beat though. I want to beat this team.' I can be as casual as I want to be about [the losing streak], but I think there was certainly a little edge to that one."
What most impressed Starsia, though, was how Virginia recovered to down Maryland in the final two days later. While Virginia used every ounce of effort to defeat the Blue Devils in its semifinal, the Terrapins delved into their depth in a 13-5 throttling of North Carolina. Nevertheless, thanks to 16 saves from goalie Adam Ghitelman and a strong performance overall, Virginia took the title - in College Park, no less.
"It had occurred to me that if we did beat Duke in the semifinal, what would it be like to turn around and have to play on Sunday?" Starsia said. "Because I knew that was going to be an emotional game for us, and I was concerned about whether or not we were going to have the juice to be able to do that. And, you're playing Maryland on its own field. That's why I was as proud of our team as I have been in some time, just because of the effort over the weekend in general. We came out and I thought we outworked Maryland as much as anything else over 60 minutes. Those second games of those weekends are not usually works of art, but I thought we really, really worked hard."
Now, the Hoos look to their last regular season game against Robert Morris on Senior Day this Saturday. While the Colonials may seem soft compared to an ACC foe, they present a unique challenge in that they lead the nation by scoring 15.31 goals per game. However, Robert Morris also has allowed 12.62 goals per game, which ranks 56th out of 58 Division 1 teams. In other words, Virginia should be fine, but Robert Morris certainly brings upset potential.
"This team is, offensively, better than some of the top teams we've played so far, no bones about that," Starsia said. "At this point in the season, too, besides the subtle adjustments that we'll make to defend these guys, the things that matter are going to be what matters: be aggressive, shoot smartly, just keep the pressure on these guys. ... They are dangerous offensively, and I think we just need to keep the ball away from them a little bit if we can."
Ken Clausen and 11 other Virginia seniors will be honored before this Saturday's game.
There are 12 Virginia seniors who will be honored in the ceremony before the game. One contributing senior whose status is uncertain is Brian McDermott, who continues to suffer from what Starsia called "a painful injury," although the coach said that he is leaning toward giving McDermott a try. The biggest contributor of the seniors over four years has been defender Ken Clausen, a four-year starter that has excelled in both shutting down some of the nation's best attackmen and in scooping up groundballs.
"It's hard to believe it's getting to this point in the year," Clausen said. "I try not to think about it too much, because I've enjoyed the experience here so much. It gets sad when you think about that we only have two more times to play on Klockner. With that being said, we still have a lot left to accomplish this season."
Clausen, of course, is referring to the NCAA Tournament, where the Cavaliers will almost certainly start out at home. No players remain from the 2006 squad that won the National Championship, and Virginia is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to win another one.
"We don't have a day to waste," Starsia said. "I told them, 'If I ask you to stand on your head for the next five weeks, you should be happy to do that if that's what's required to get this done.' I know it might sound a little tired, but we need to get better."
"I think if we do everything we set out to accomplish, it's going to make leaving here a lot less difficult," Clausen said.
|Printer-Friendly E-mail this Article|