Happy Friday, Hoo fans! So far this week we've covered the Virginia attack and midfield units, so it's time to look at the defense.
Last season, the Cavalier defense took a huge hit when Greg Danseglio transferred to Maryland and All-American and All-ACC player Tanner Scales missed the entire year due to an Achilles injury sustained in the last scrimmage of fall ball.
Fourth year walk on Davi Sacco stepped admirably in Tanner's absence, leading the team with 23 caused turnovers and anchoring the young Virginia defense. Sacco earned a spot as a team captain after his teammates voted him to the position permanently following his honorary captaincy for the Syracuse game (his final game close to home in New York).
The Hoos return the rest of their close defenders and get Scales back, so Virginia should be able to build on last season's 11 goals given up per game average.
Reminder - the short stick defensive midfielders and long stick midfielders will be covered in next week's specialists preview, as will the goalie position.
The Big Three:
Tanner Scales - Scales is back 100% and is going to be crucial for the Hoos. He has been a stellar defender from day one on Grounds, earning ACC Rookie of the Year in 2013. He was a third team All-American his second year, and started all 16 games. He is tenacious on the ball and has good pick up for ground balls. Before his injury, Scales was named a preseason first team All-American.
Scales brings seniority to the defense and has been solid through the fall. His size (6-2, 200) lets him body up the bigger attackmen for the opposing team, and he will likely mark each team's biggest scoring threat.
Logan Greco - Greco started 13 of Virginia's 15 games last season, playing in all 15 games. The experience he gained by getting a full season of competition under his belt as a first year was huge for him (and Hooper). He finished with just 14 ground balls and four caused turnovers, but stayed out of the penalty box all season.
He's a big, strong kid (6-0, 205), so he doesn't get pushed around easily down low. I expect his game to progress as he learns to work with Scales and gains more and more game experience.
Scott Hooper - Basically ditto everything said above about Greco. Hooper also started 13 of the 15 games, playing in all of their matches. He grabbed nine ground balls and forced seven turnovers last season, and found himself in the penalty box for 3.5 minutes on four fouls. He was the No.3 defenseman coming in last season according to Inside Lacrosse, and his skills developed well over the course of the season.
Watch For This Guy:
Nate Menninger - Menninger, a fourth year, missed last season due to a lower extremity injury. He is a solid defender and had 15 ground balls and six caused turnovers his first season with Virginia. He can also take faceoffs (with the long pole) winning 42% of his attempts two seasons ago.
Zach Ambrosino, a first year, could add a lot to the defensive unit for Coach Starsia. Starsia has talked repeatedly in preseason about liking Ambrosino's game. Ambrosino, from Massachusetts, was an Under Armour All-American and listed as the No.7 defenseman for his class by Inside Lacrosse.