Virginia Lacrosse: Rutgers Scarlet Knights Preview

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Cavaliers look to continue winning ways, move to 3–0 against Big East opponent

While the men's basketball team nears the conclusion of its season with three home games at John Paul Jones Arena, the Virginia men's lacrosse team returns to action across the street at Klockner Stadium.

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights come to town for a 5 P.M. Saturday face-off. The two teams have played nine times before, but not in Charlottesville since 1999 and never at Klockner.

Rutgers is also undefeated in 2014 with wins over Manhattan (13–5 in the season opener) and Wagner (20–5). The two victories have come on the strength of a balanced offensive attack: Rutgers has had 17 players register a point and 11 score a goal. Senior attackman Scott Klimchak has paced the way so far with 10 points on nine goals. Klimchak is paired on the attack with sophomore Scott Bieda, who leads the team in assists with four.

That attack has been fueled by the dominance of junior face-off specialist Joe Nardella. The pre-season All-Big East selection has won a staggering 87.8 percent of his draws at the X this year—18 in each of Rutgers' first two games. As a team, Virginia has won less than half of its face-offs (43 percent); that inability to control possession has allowed U.Va.'s opponents to string together runs and keep games torturously close. Keeping Nardella in check will be a big key to Virginia's chances on Saturday.

As one might expect from two games with opponents held to five goals apiece, goalie Kris Alleyne has had an impressive season from a statistical standpoint. Alleyne has posted 24 saves already, even ceding late-game mop up duty to backup Jake Anderson. With a 70.3 percent save percentage, Alleyne poses an imposing obstacle to James Pannell, Mark Cockerton and the Hoos' scorers. (A statistical oddity of Alleyne's season: He has allowed only five goals in each game, but because he has played less than the full time in those games, his goals-against average is 5.71.)

This early in the season, it's hard to read much into each opponent. But against Rutgers, a few things stand out. Possession will be key (see: Nardella). One way Virginia can reduce Rutgers' possession advantage will be by clearing the ball well—the Knights have yielded a clear percentage under 80 percent this year, but Virginia has cleared at over a 90 percent clip. Chris "Shocker/Human Clear" LaPierre will play a big role in that, as will our athletic defenders. Rutgers puts their shots on net, with a shots-on-goal percentage nearing 70 percent. Freshman goalie Matt Barrett will need to continue stepping into his role between the pipes for Virginia; his play against Drexel showed encouraging signs in that direction.

One final note: For those planning to attend the game, traffic and parking will be snarled up by the basketball game (tip at 2:00, coverage here on STL!). The Athletics Department has put out guidance for fans attending either (but preferably both) events.

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