Virginia barely had time to savor an overtime victory in the NCAA men’s lacrosse quarterfinals before learning it would face a nemesis in the next round.
The Cavaliers have Salem-bred sophomore Joe Robertson to thank for that.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” said Robertson, whose goal with 2:33 elapsed in overtime Saturday lifted second-ranked Duke to a 14-13 victory over No. 7 Notre Dame in Hempstead, New York.
“It’s something I’ll remember forever. If Joe Stein doesn’t win the faceoff, if Cade Van Raaphorst doesn’t pick up the ground ball and if C.J. [Sein] doesn’t throw it to me, then I’m not in position and the game could have gone somewhere else.”
Robertson, the youngest of four brothers who have played lacrosse at the Division I level, has a team-high 40 goals for the Blue Devils, who will meet Virginia at noon Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Like Duke, UVa advanced with an overtime goal, defeating Maryland 13-12 in the first game in Hempstead.
Duke (13-4) enters the men’s lacrosse final four as the No. 2 seed and Virginia (15-3) is the third seed. In the second game of the day, top-seeded Penn State (16-1) will face fifth-seeded Yale (14-3) at 2:30 p.m.
The Blue Devils already have beaten Virginia once this season, 12-7, on April 13 at Duke. It was the 18th time in the last 19 meetings between the teams that Duke has come away victorious.
“It’s certainly the elephant in the room,” said Robertson. “We’re not focused on that at all, though. It’s just another great opponent that we have to play. They’ve always had a great team.”
After Robertson spent his freshman year at Salem High School, the family took up residence in Charlottesville, where his oldest brother, Matt, was a back-up goalie for the Cavaliers after transferring from Colgate.
Joe Robertson enrolled at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, where he played for three seasons under coach Bo Perriello.
“We saw [Robertson] at a number of summer events,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “It wasn’t till his senior year that his high school coach called us and asked if we would be interested in him.
“He’s one of those guys who came to us late and we’re ecstatic that he did.”
Robertson is the youngest of four brothers who have played at the Division I level, including Phillip Robertson, who was a junior attacker this past season at Princeton, where he had a team-leading 33 goals in 2018.
Another Robertson brother, Ian, played at Maryland from 2014-16 after transferring from Delaware.
“Up until my senior year at STAB, I was committed to Johns Hopkins,” Joe Robertson said. “In the fall, I decommitted to open up some other options.
“I wasn’t getting too many. I was looking at a couple Ivy League schools and coach [Perriello] asked if I had any other interest in schools. I told him that I had always had a love for Duke and the campus and everything.
“He sent one of my tapes and it went from phone call to phone call until I ultimately decided to go there.”
In Robertson’s first year, Duke reached the NCAA quarterfinals before losing to Ohio State 16-11. Last year, the Blue Devils made it to the final before losing to Yale, 13-11.
Robertson’s two goals in that game got him to 48 for the season.
“We were so close,” he said earlier this week in a phone interview. “We’re just focused now on being the best team we can be. It’s exciting to be playing Virginia. I know a couple of guys on their team but I don’t really hang out with them.”
At STAB, the offensive player of the year award is called the Robertson Award after the brothers, the last three of whom were two-time high-school All-Americans.
Although his season has ended, Perriello, a STAB and Notre Dame alumnus, has other engagements that may prevent him from going to Philadelphia.
“But certainly,” he said, “having Joe there makes it tempting to want to get up there.”