As you now know, the 2017 Virginia Lacrosse season gets started this weekend with a trip to #5 Loyola. In order to learn a little bit more about the new-look Hoos under new head coach Lars Tiffany, we reached out to Dan Aburn at Inside Lacrosse who saw Virginia take on Maryland in a scrimmage at the end of January.
Streaking the Lawn: There’s been a lot of talk about a new-look offense with Zed Williams on attack and more use of Joe French. The Hoos bring in two top 20 attack men in Kraus and Gordon. How do you see them fitting in the rotation? What do you expect out of Virginia’s attack?
DA: I think fans should be excited about Virginia's new-look attack. Zed Williams is a big-bodied and crafty goalscorer, and his move to attack means his playmaking ability will always be on the field. I'd imagine his assist numbers get a big boost. Joe French brings a very familiar Canadian skill set to the attack. He's got fantastic stick skills, a great understanding of positioning and is supreme at scoring close range. He's a hard working dude and I think he'll be the unit's primary finisher. The wildcard will be Ryan Lukacovic, who I imagine will rotate between attack and midfield during games. I see Kraus taking over Lukacovic's role at attack when he goes to midfield, and Gordon will be the fourth attackman who gets minutes from time to time.
STL: Coach Tiffany uses the fast break and transition. What players in place will fit into that system from the get-go, and where will they need help on that front?
DA: Tiffany's personnel he inherited at Virginia is more athletic at the midfield position than what he had in previous years at Brown. Therefore, I think players like Ryan Conrad, Dox Aitken and Will McNamara will be the players he'll be leaning on to play fast in the middle of the field and spark fast breaks. Longpoles like Michael Howard and Alec Webster look like two players Tiffany's spent time developing to also be contributors in this system.
STL: What do you expect out of the midfield? What role does Ryan Conrad carve out on a Tiffany team? How much can fans expect to see two-way middies, and who is best suited for that on the Hoos?
DA: Virginia's midfield is brimming with athleticism this season. Conrad looks to be the do-it-all player. He'll be relied upon to score, play defensive midfield, take the wing on face-offs, and clear the ball with his own legs. Fans can expect to see a lot of middies play both ways, including Conrad, Aitken, and McNamara. I envision AJ Fish and Lukacovic as two players who will play a more offense-specialized midfield role.
STL: Should Virginia fans be worried about the goalie position after the dismissal of Matt Barrett?
DA: I think Virginia fans should worry about the goalie position only in the fact that they don't know what they are going to get. Will Railey looks like your day one starter, and he has impressed in scrimmages and in practices colleagues have seen. But goalie is the position most prone to roller coaster waves of momentum throughout a season, so it's hard to be definitive about how that position will play out for Virginia this year.
STL: What do you like about the 2017 Virginia defense?
DA: What I like most about Virginia's defense in 2017 is that they are big (there isn't a defenseman listed below 6'0 on the roster) and experienced, but also infused with a lot of young talent. They have a prototypical cover man in Tanner Scales and he'll likely be flanked by Scott Hooper. I think the spot for the third player on defense is still a bit up in the air, but I'd expect Logan Greco or Zach Ambrosino to fill that hole. Michael Howard also should have another fantastic year at LSM, while Jared Conners and Jack Reilly are two talented freshmen who could contribute some minutes.
STL: You saw Virginia go toe-to-toe with Maryland in a scrimmage. What was your biggest takeaway for the Hoos from that game?
DA: I think the biggest takeaway from the Maryland scrimmage was simply how overhauled the team seemed to be, both in terms of the players on the field to the style that they wanted to play. It looked a lot different than what I had been accustomed to seeing from Virginia the past couple seasons. It was also quite apparent how much Tiffany had invested into developing player roles and that fast pace. I think what I saw was a good working template of what Tiffany achieved at Brown last season.
STL: How far do you see this team going? What do you project their record to be? Do they make the tournament? Win an ACC game?
DA: I think one thing about Virginia that nobody is talking about is that they have one of the better senior classes in the ACC, so I think their outlook going into 2017 is much better than in year's past. Looking at their schedule, I think their record will end up 8-6 or 7-7. The tournament seems like a bit of a stretch with such a record, but I think an ACC win is definitely within their reach. It might also be the best opportunity to get that much eluded win against Duke.
Huge thanks to Dan for taking the time out. Give him a follow (@DanAburn2423) for all things lacrosse! Hoos face off against the Greyhounds at 1pm on Saturday in Baltimore, in a game that will be streamed by Twitter (first ever!).