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The sports world has long harbored an obsession with offense. Goals, assists, shots, kills and dunks are buzz words that dictate fan interest and drive the highlight reels. With a freewheeling pace that often yields steady streams of goals, lacrosse is as prone to the scoring bias as any sport.

That goal-oriented favoritism made a recent accomplishment even sweeter for Megan Dunleavy, a senior captain on the University of Virginia’s lacrosse team. Dunleavy, a former Robinson Secondary School standout, was one of four defenders named to the 20-member 2013 All-ACC Women’s Lacrosse Team last Wednesday.

“It was a huge accomplishment for me and gave me a good amount of confidence going into the ACC tournament,” said Dunleavy, whose team lost to top-ranked Maryland, 13-9, in the ACC semifinals last Friday. “It was especially rewarding for me because I think that a lot of times defenders’ contributions can go unnoticed, so I was both surprised and excited when I got picked.”

Dunleavy logged her first career assist two weeks ago in a 10-5 victory against Virginia Tech, but her college career is not defined by stats that light the scoreboard. The anchor of the Cavaliers’ defense the past three seasons, Dunleavy has recorded 59 ground balls, 18 draw controls and 27 caused turnovers during her time in Charlottesville.

Those numbers are especially impressive considering she was known for contributions on the other side of the field in high school. Dunleavy, who also honed her skills playing for Capital Lacrosse Club, was an attacking wing during her days at Robinson, meaning she wasn’t even allowed to stray across the border into the defense’s side of the turf.

Dunleavy’s knack for finding the back of the net helped Robinson establish itself as one of the best lacrosse programs in the Northern Region. The Rams won districts, regionals and state runner-up honors in both her freshman and senior years.

Still, Dunleavy wasn’t shortsighted when it came to realizing her future role on the field. Plenty of talented players enter college lacrosse having led their high school teams in scoring, meaning many have to adapt to different positions at the next level.

“I always would tell the girls that you’ve got to make sure you’re as good of a defender as you are an attacker, and that was what Megan took pride in,” said Alison Neun, who ended her eight-year coaching stint at Robinson in 2010 after the birth of her daughter. “She would really focus in practice on her defensive skills, so I knew whether she played defense, offense, midfield in college, she would be prepared.”

Coming off a senior season at Robinson in which she was named Region Player of the Year as a goalscorer, Dunleavy used her versatility to quickly transition into her new defensive role during the seven games she played her freshman year at Virginia. She then started every game her sophomore season, establishing herself as the team’s vocal leader on the back line.

Alongside senior goalie Kim Kolarik, Dunleavy entered her final year at Virginia this spring as a member of the prestigious Tewaaraton Award watch list, which seeks to identify the top male and female college lacrosse players in the U.S. She is one of only 10 ACC Tweaaraton Award candidates to earn All-ACC honors this season.

Now Dunleavy is hoping to lead Virginia (9-9, 2-5 ACC) to its 18th consecutive NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament. The Cavaliers will learn on Sunday whether they have been selected to the tournament’s field of 26 teams.

A non-losing record is needed to be eligible for consideration into that field, a requirement that saddled heaps of pressure on Dunleavy’s team entering its matchup against Duke in the first round of last week’s ACC Tournament. Seeded No. 5 against the fourth-seeded Blue Devils, Virginia was faced with a head-spinning task: beat Duke, or become the first Virginia women’s lacrosse team to finish with a losing record since 1984.

The Cavaliers came up clutch last Thursday, avenging a 13-7 loss against Duke earlier in the season with a 10-7 victory this time around.

“It was really rewarding for us to come away with the win against Duke,” Dunleavy said. “It helped us all realize that our hard work finally paid off and that we can hang with one of the best teams in the country. It definitely gave us a lot of confidence now that we are going into postseason play.”

Hoping to earn acceptance into UVa’s Commerce School next fall, Dunleavy looks forward to an internship at an equity research and trading firm in D.C., this summer. In the meantime, though, she is focused on balancing exam week with preparation for next week’s NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely think that we are playing our best lacrosse right now,” Dunleavy said. “We have switched up a lot of people at different positions and I think that we finally have found our stride. I think that we are peaking just at the right time before NCAA play.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com