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2017 Lacrosse Preview: The Midfield

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Some new personnel joins the ranks on Virginia’s midfield in 2017.

Virginia Head Coach Lars Tiffany talks with midfielders Ryan Lukacovic (L) and Will McNamara (M) (and defender Tanner Scales (R).
Inside Lacrosse Photo: Jaclyn Borowski

The countdown continues to the start of the 2017 Men’s Lacrosse season! On Monday, we took a look at the new-look Virginia offense. Tuesday, new Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany held a conference call for “friends of the program” and provided a fascinating look into the working of the Virginia Lacrosse team and what they have been working on in the off season.

You will notice some major changes to the midfield (especially since what was presented Monday) as Coach Tiffany utilizes his inherited players differently and employs a high-speed, fast-paced transition game. Let’s take a look at projected starters, the face off position, and a couple names to know.

The Big Three:

Ryan Lukacovic - As you may have noticed, I included Ryan on the attack preview. Well, he will be playing midfield for the Hoos, acting at times as a fourth attackman. Coach Tiffany said he will be more of a “swing man” out of the box, and really be used to apply pressure to the opposing team’s defense as they have to decide who to short-stick out of Lukacovic, Williams (hint: don’t short-stick Zed), French, and D’Amario/Kraus (with D’Amario being the predicted third starter now on attack). Lukacovic is a captain for the Hoos this year, and Tiffany described the guy who likes to entice his teammates into performing by using, “the proverbial carrot, not the whip”.

Ryan Conrad - Get excited about this kid, because you will be seeing him a LOT this season. Conrad is going to function as a two-way middie, even expected to play man-down situations for the Hoos. He’s a great athlete who has a phenomenal shot. After showing up in Charlottesville as the #1 overall and #1 midfielder in Inside Lacrosse’s player rankings (and winning a gold medal with the U.S. U-19 team), Conrad had nine goals and three assists for the Hoos. He saw action in 14 of Virginia’s 15 games. Tiffany described Conrad as a “throwback” middie who will spend a lot of time on the field. Expect to see Conrad on the wings for face-offs, assisting in fast breaks, playing defense, and forcing opponent d-middies to stay on the field longer than they’re comfortable.

Will McNamara - I love McNamara’s story. He came to UVA in 2013 as the #1 midfielder (and #3 overall recruit) according to Inside Lacrosse and redshirted his first season due to a hip injury. McNamara was not enrolled in school in 2014 due to personal issues, but he took care of what he needed to and was re-enrolled in school and earned a spot back on the team in 2015. Since then, he has worked hard and was voted a captain by his teammates as a fourth year this season. He got run as a short-stick defensive midfielder under Coach Starsia, but will function as another multi-faceted two-way midfielder for Coach Tiffany. “He’s actually a pretty good offensive player.” Tiffany said during the Tuesday conference call. “I think he is better defensively, but he has put a few balls in some corners, and he has shot the ball a couple times recently that has made us go, ‘wow’. So, I think his experience on the field is tremendous.”

Watch for These Guys:

Dox Aitken - Another guy named #1 midfielder (#2 overall recruit) by Inside Lacrosse. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s three top-rated midfielders (and Zed Williams was the #2 rated midfielder in his incoming class) that are set to make a major impact on Virginia’s midfield this season. Aitken, a Villanova, PA native (don’t hold that against him...boo Wildcats), was described by Tiffany to be in “phenomenal fitness shape” when the team returned to grounds for spring practice. He is 6-2, 190, so can bring some physicality to the midfield.

AJ Fish - Speaking of physicality, Fish is 6-3, 185. He has a great outside shot, and had 14 goals and eight assists last season. I expect him to get a lot of time on the field, but get used to not using the usual “first line, second line” phrasing with Coach Tiffany as he keeps things more fluid and, as mentioned, utilizes the fast break and transition to create mismatches and keep opponents on their heels. Cory Harris and Matt Emery also got mentioned in the discussion of the midfield.

Faceoffs:

Jason Murphy - Murphy is going to be ‘the guy’ at the faceoff X this year. He performed well last season, going 123-for-197 (62.4%). He is a redshirt-junior after transferring from Ohio State before his second year (fun fact: he had a 4.0 at Ohio State and has been on the All-ACC Honor Roll at UVA). His reps will be increasing this season as Tiffany plays a high-tempo, high-possession brand of lacrosse (think opposite basketball).

When he doesn’t take the faceoff, you’ll see Jeff Kratky, Dave Smith, or Luke Brugel at the X. Kratky was the #2 guy for the Hoos last year, going 51-for-104 (49%) on the season. Coach Tiffany referred to them as “crash test dummies” as they practice tough, and that he, “loves how hard they’re getting after each other”.

Stay with Streaking the Lawn all week as we continue previewing the 2017 as we get closer to the season opener at Loyola. The game will be streamed on Twitter and starts at 1pm on Saturday in Baltimore.