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Virginia Lacrosse Preview: NCAA First Round vs. Johns Hopkins

Hoos host Hopkins in a rematch of an exciting regular season game as Virginia kicks off their 2015 postseason.

Ryan Tucker put up 5 goals last time out against Hopkins. Can he do it again?
Ryan Tucker put up 5 goals last time out against Hopkins. Can he do it again?
Danny Neckel

Who: Johns Hopkins Blue Jays
When: Sunday, May 10, 1:00 (Mother's Day, kids)
Where: Klöckner Stadium, Charlottesville, VA
How to Watch: ESPNU

It's that time of the year again. The sky is a little bluer, the birds sing a little sweeter, and Dom Starsia is prepping for another post season run. The 2015 lacrosse season was an unusual one. Already down players due to graduation and transfers, the Wahoos were decimated by injuries to All-America players Tanner Scales and James Pannell.

Despite the personnel changes, the Cavaliers battled and finished the regular season 10-4, ranked in the top ten, and were selected as the No.7 seed in the NCAA tournament. For more background on the season up to this point, check out Streaking the Lawn's BRAND NEW podcast: To Homer and Back. That's about 45 minutes of laxy goodness as Paul, Pierce, and I discuss the past season and preview the tournament.

This weekend's foe is no stranger to Coach Starsia and the Cavaliers as they welcome Johns Hopkins back to Charlottesville. The two teams already met once this season in a dramatic, overtime game in which the Hoos bested the Blue Jays in Baltimore. Virginia's midfield dominated that game, with Ryan Tucker scoring five goals, Zed Williams shaking and baking for four goals, Tyler German blasting three from outside, and Greg Coholan adding two of his own, including the game winner in overtime.

Down two with just under five minutes to play, German and Tucker rattled off back to back scores in a span of 48 seconds to tie the game at 15 and force overtime. Coach Starsia used every trick in the book, including pulling goalie Matt Barrett and using the youngster Will Railey to try and force a turnover to gain possession and knot the score. The full game is still on ESPN3, and check out the highlights below:

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While the win up on Charles Street back in March was epic and, it means nothing at this point. If you recall, Virginia won an overtime thriller against Hopkins last regular season, only to fall to the Blue Jays in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Charlottesville. Let's not do that again.

Here are some keys to the game for the Hoos to emerge victorious on Sunday:

Attack Scoring. In the first matchup, the only 'attack' player to score was midfielder-turned-attack-in-place-of-James-Pannell Greg Coholan. Owen Van Arsdale and Ryan Lukacovic each notched one assist, but that was it for the game. In Virginia's defense, the Hopkins game was just the second game after losing Pannell, and they appear to have settled in more since that point.

Ryan Lukacovic brings an impressive 20 goals and 26 assists into this game, and has been red hot in the last two with 12 points combined against Georgetown and Penn. The Lukacovic that fans have seen in the past two weeks is more the player that was expected on Grounds, and has looked like a young Steele Stanwick out there at times. Virginia will have to move the Hopkins defense, and getting the attackmen involved more is crucial in setting up a dynamic attack.

Monster Midfield. As mentioned above, the midfield accounted for 14 of 16 goals in the last matchup. Hopkins goalie Eric Schneider is one of the worst in the NCAA when it comes to save percentage (46.7%, good for 54th out of 58 in the NCAA), and the Cavaliers connected on 41% of their attempts against the Blue Jays back in March. Tucker was 5 of 6 shooting on the afternoon, German was 3 of 5 (both misses caught pipe), and Williams was 4 of 7. Schneider struggles with the outside, well placed shots, so the midfield has an advantage. Take into account that the Hopkins short stick midfielders struggle mightily...and Virginia has a chance to light up the scoreboard.

When you look at the midfield/attack group for Virginia made up of Van Arsdale, Lukacovic, Coholan, Tucker, Williams, and German, it's a nightmare to decide who you want to put a short stick on. Dodging at the short sticks will be crucial, and if you get a beneficial matchup on Tucker or Williams, that should translate into a goal. Here's to hoping Coholan sees a shortie at some point...

Poppa Barrett. I have zero reservations saying that Matt Barrett has been the one of, if not THE, best goalie in the country this season. He leads the ACC in save percentage, and has faced a monstrous number of shots from the best attackmen in the country. As a second year, he's anchored a defense that suffered from youth and inexperience, yet sits third in the NCAA in saves per game (13.07) and 11th in save percentage (56.5%).

Against Hopkins earlier in the season, Barrett saved 13 shots, which is right on his average (that's how ridiculously good he's been). Ryan Brown is a prolific scorer for Hopkins with 54 goals through their 15 games, and anytime you have two Stanwicks (Wells and Shackleford), there are a few threats to score.

De-FENSE!! De-FENSE!! As mentioned above, Hopkins has some scorers. Last game, UVa. handled everyone but Joel Tinney (3 goals, 2 assists) and Holden Cattoni (4 goals), holding threats like both Stanwicks, Brown, and middie Connor Reed to a goal each. Virginia is susceptible to back door and off-ball cuts, but have succeeded on ball. Contrary to Hopkins' struggles, Dom Starsia boasts a strong corps of short stick midfielders, yet again. Carlson Milikin, Jack Falk, and Will McNamara have been solid and grown as a unit.

Davi Sacco continues his story-book senior season, leading the team with 22 caused turnovers. Michael Howard could be the X-factor in this one, whether he plays wings at the face off, as a long stick midfielder, or as a close defender. Just know he'll be on the field the majority of the game.

Face OOFs. Yikes. Virginia lost 24 of 33 (no joke) face offs last time these two teams met. That's not good. Jason Murphy has become the most consistent at X, so expect to see him taking the majority of the faceoffs. If the Cavaliers can get that 27% number closer to 45% (or higher!!??), that would ease the burden on the defense and limit Hopkins' scoring chances.

Prediction: I think the Hoos take it. Hopkins will be desperate for redemption, but the attack has been hot the past couple games and the midfiled can take out the Blue Jays. Faceoff play will be crucial, but the Hoos showed that last game it won't cripple them to the point of loss. It will be close through three, then Virginia extends the lead. 16-12 UVA.