Virginia midfielder Sammy Mueller (left) hopes the Cavaliers take the next step this season and reach the Final Four.

The Virginia women’s lacrosse team won the national championship in 2004. Since then, four programs have combined to win the next 15 championships.

Northwestern has won seven championships and Maryland owns five titles in that span. North Carolina added a pair of national championships and James Madison won the 2018 title.

Breaking through to win a national championship proves tremendously difficult, especially when it comes to beating out ACC squads.

North Carolina is an elite program, and Boston College has lost in the national championship game in each of the past three seasons. Syracuse, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech all win consistently as well.

UVa ranks ninth in the Inside Lacrosse poll and eighth in the IWLCA coaches poll. Despite those lofty national rankings, the ACC preseason coaches poll predicts the Cavaliers will finish fifth in the conference.

There’s a fine line between making the NCAA quarterfinals — as the Cavaliers did last season — and earning a spot in the Final Four and winning it all.

Virginia hopes to take the leap in 2020.

“I think our NCAA Tournament last year was a good step, getting to that next weekend, but we want to go further,” Virginia senior Sammy Mueller said. “I think everybody’s goal is to get to the Final Four, win that national championship.”

Virginia possesses the tools to take the jump from top-10 team to national title threat. The Cavaliers boast a wealth of experience both offensively and defensively. Mueller is a senior midfielder, and she’ll be supported by fellow senior midfielder Nora Bowen. Both Bowen and Mueller were both preseason All-ACC selections.

Anna Hauser and Megan Plain also are senior midfielders with playing experience, and the underclassmen at the position, including sophomore Lillie Kloak, are stellar athletes. The attack isn’t as experienced, but there’s no shortage of talent for the Cavaliers along the front lines.

Defensively, Lauren Martin and Ashely Stilo are seniors with meaningful experience. Add in redshirt junior Charlie Campbell as the goalkeeper, and the Cavaliers own one of the most talented rosters in the nation.

After months of preparation for the 2020 season, it finally begins Saturday when the Cavaliers play at Navy.

“Like you’re going to Disney World,” Campbell said about the season starting. “It’s so exciting. This is truly the best part of the year, when you get to go and just prove all the work that you did.”

Campbell and the Cavaliers jump right into it this season with a challenging four-game road stint to begin the year. After opening at No. 15 Navy, UVa heads west for a game against No. 20 Stanford before facing unranked California. UVa plays at No. 6 Princeton before finally playing a game in Charlottesville on Feb. 26 against Richmond.

For a team that wants to become the best in the country, playing a challenging schedule fits its goals. Playing tough opponents prepares the Cavaliers for what’s to come, and playing four consecutive games on the road quickly gives head coach Julie Myers an idea of what to expect from her team on and off the field.

“Our first four opponents are gonna be really, really tough, but I do like that it’s on the road,” Myers said. “I think a lot of times it’s nice to be home because it’s a little bit more controlled, but on the road you get to really know your team a little bit better. We’ll know what makes ‘em tick. We’ll learn very quickly what makes them happy, and what they jell over. A couple of hotels and road trips and airplanes and all that, I think it’s gonna be a really exciting start.”

Virginia enters 2020 with national title aspirations. The Cavaliers have good reason to believe they can be one of the best teams in the country, and those goals will be put to the test from the first game.

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