The Virginia Cavaliers have opened their season against Drexel for as long as I can remember (and at least back to 2004, the furthest back listed on Virginia's website). Recent matches have become much more competitive, including a 13-12 overtime victory on a Matt White goal last year.
This season, the matchup is the opener for the Dragons, but the third contest of the 2014 season for the Wahoos. Virginia won an emotional victory over Loyola last Thursday, then followed that performance with a one goal win in Richmond's first ever division one lacrosse game.
Drexel ended their season last year with an 11-8 loss to Towson in the CAA Semifinals, finishing with a more than respectable 11-4 record. A relatively young team last year, the Dragons return a plethora of contributors from 2013.
On attack, watch out for junior Ryan Belka who had 27 goals and 14 assists last season, as well as Ben McIntosh (38 goals, 18 assists) and Frank Fusco (23 goals, 9 assists). McIntosh, a Canadian midfielder, will be tough to guard and led Drexel in scoring last season. His 56 points were the most scored by any middie in the CAA last season.
I expect to see Cal Winkelman in goal for Drexel, who started the final 11 games after teammate Will Gabrielsen went out with an illness last year.
Junior Nick Saputo returns to the faceoff X, looking to build off of his CAA-leading 7.67 ground balls per game tally from last year.
Virginia will need to improve their play defensively, especially goalie Matt Barrett who has a blistering 12.33 goals against average and only a 34.2% save percentage through the first two games. I'm willing to allow a slow start for nerves and some unfortunate second chance shots against Richmond, but it's time to see what he's made of.
A big key for the Hoos will be limiting the ridiculous goal runs they let both Loyola (nine goals) and Richmond (seven goals) get. The talent is there on the defensive end, so it's a matter of when, not if.
Joe Lisicky is one of my two biggest kudos to give for the season so far. He has been an absolute animal on the faceoffs, and has already accumulated a team-leading five caused turnovers. Lisicky also has nine ground balls so far on the season, the most for anyone not named Mick Parks.
The other praise to give out has to be for James Pannell. With eight goals on 15 shots, James is shooting at a staggering 53.3% pace. His back to back four goals, two assists performances were good enough to earn him ACC Offensive Player of the Week, and rightfully so. Pannell has shown he is comfortable creating the shot for himself, but also aware and unselfish enough to find the extra man when they have the better shot (see: game tying assist against Loyola).
Today's game will start at noon in Philly, a change from the original Saturday time. Weather prompted the switch. The game will not be televised, but you can find live stats on virginiasports.com.