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2017 Lacrosse Preview: The Defense

Virginia returns some key players to the defensive end, but will have to adjust to change in style.

Tiffany brings defensive changes to Charlottesville.
Inside Lacrosse Photo: Jaclyn Borowski

You’ve heard a lot about lacrosse this week. So far we’ve talked about the attack, midfield, what to expect, and gave a little info on new head coach Lars Tiffany. Today, just one day away from the 2017 season opener at #5 Loyola, it’s time to look at the defense. Tiffany is the defensive coordinator for the team, much like how Dom Starsia ran the defense for the last 24 years. Tiffany’s style employs fast, athletic defenders who play active defense. He has said the key to the defense is their ability to, “maintain our style of play”, and that he has preached “predictive, repetitive behavior” - a military phrase - so that players know what the guy to their left and right will do next.

The defense this season will rely on the usual interior defenders and long stick midfielders, but will also utilize more two-way defenders and fewer defensive midfielders (compared to years past). Coach Tiffany mentioned Tuesday on a conference call that he’s been “re-training them how to play team defense”, and that while they are currently a “work in progress”, the players come ready to work to each practice.

The Big Three:

Tanner Scales - Scales is the anchor of this team. A redshirt fourth year, Scales missed the 2015 season with an achilles injury. He’s a smart defender and a phenomenal lock-down player. Expect him to draw the opponent’s toughest attackman for each game. He’s one of three team-elected captains for the Hoos (was also a captain last season), and someone Coach Tiffany has described as the ‘disciplinarian’. At 6-2, 200 pounds he’s an imposing player, but also has quickness and a high level of skill to compliment his size.

Scott Hooper - Hooper, a third year from the Hotchkiss School (Connecticut), returns as one of four players who started all 15 games for the Hoos last season. He led the 2016 team with 23 caused turnovers, and only earned two penalties last season. Hooper, 6-1, 200 pounds, has seen a lot of playing time in his first two years with Virginia and will bring experience to the defensive end.

Zach Ambrosino - Tiffany listed Ambrosino - a 6-0, 200 pound second year - as his third close defender for this season. He came into Virginia as the #7 defender according to Inside Lacrosse and played in 14 games last year for the Hoos (starting nine). He was another low-penalty guy, with just two penalties for 1:30 on the season.

Watch for These Guys:

Cooper Fersen - At 6-5, 220, Fersen is a monster. He only appeared in three games last season after playing in 14 (mainly at long stick midfielder) in 2015, but he should be a big contributor for the Hoos on the defensive end.

Michael Howard - He is arguably my favorite player to watch in lacrosse. He’s big (6-5, 220) but plays with the agility and speed of a much smaller player. Last season he matched up well on opposing team’s biggest midfielders (Duke’s Myles Jones, ND’s Sergio Perkovic). Howard is battling back from a shoulder injury so is further down the depth chart on defense than many expected, but his ability to get down the field quickly will be a huge benefit in the Tiffany system.

Oh, and he had two goals (one against Brown) and an assist last season.

Goalie:

Will Railey - Railey seems to be the guy that may get the nod to start, but as of Tuesday Tiffany didn’t know for sure. The expected starter - Matt Barrett - is no longer a part of the program, so the Hoos will be in a bit of a bind between the pipes. Railey, Ryan Montgomery, Will Hudson, and Griffin Thompson were all listed as possibilities in the cage for Virginia, and Tiffany said he liked individual aspects of each player’s game. There is a possibility Tiffany and goalie coach Kip Turner (UVA ‘07) decide to split time for the goalies, but Tiffany acknowledged the old football saying “when you have two quarterbacks, you have none” (AMIRITE, UVA FANS?).

Regardless of who ends up in cage, the Hoos have accepted that their scheme will lead to goals...you just have to get more than your opponents.

Hoos faceoff against Loyola at 1pm in Baltimore on Saturday. The game will be streamed live on Twitter, the first time in college lacrosse history. Stay with Streaking the Lawn for all your coverage!