When the #15 Virginia Cavaliers take the field at Robins Stadium this afternoon, they will be the underdog to #11 Richmond. Yes, you heard correctly. I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but Richmond is the real deal. In just their fourth season, the Spiders have put together one of the most - if not the most - formidable defenses in the country.
The history between Richmond and Virginia on the lacrosse field goes back to 2014, when the Hoos played the Spiders in their first-ever NCAA lacrosse game. Virginia’s James Pannell led the way with four goals as they turned a one goal halftime deficit into a narrow 13-12 UVA win. Two years ago, things went a little smoother as the Hoos cruised to a 14-7 win, and last season Virginia blanked the Spiders 9-0.
This year, the story for the Spiders is their defense. They lead the country with a blistering 5.44 goals against average, led by senior Benny Pugh in goal. Pugh boasts a save percentage of 70.2% (no, I’m not kidding), which is good for first in the nation. Richmond’s defense allows just 28.7 shots per game and 2.67 assists per game. They’ll disrupt you and force you into turnovers. As a team, Richmond causes 9.78 turnovers a game, led by senior defensemen Brendan Hynes (#3 in the nation) with 2.67 and Ryan Dennis (#5 in the nation) with 2.33 per game.
Enter Virginia’s offense. The Hoos are second in the country in goals per game (15.7) and assists per game (10.3). Virginia averages 47.7 shots per game. You guessed it...something’s gotta give. First year Michael Kraus leads Virginia with 25 goals, Mike D’Amario is in close second with 24, and Dox Aitken with 22. Zed Williams (18 goals, 21 assists) is the team’s lead assist man, and three other players (Ryan Lukacovic, Ryan Conrad, and Joe French) all have double-digit goals on the season. According to the new KenPom-esque lacrosse analytics site, Richmond is the second-best defense in the country. The first? Notre Dame, who Virginia lost to in an overtime heartbreaker, 11-10, two weekends ago.
Offensively, the Spiders average 10.7 goals per game and take 33.9 shots per game. Sophomore Teddy Hatfield leads Richmond with 21 goals and 17 assists, and the Spiders have three other players with at least 10 goals. Seniors JP Forester (10 goals) and Dan Ginestro (10 goals) have had solid careers at Richmond under head coach Dan Chemotti. Their biggest goal output of the season came in their opener when they put up 15 goals on Fairfield. In Richmond’s biggest win of the season - over reigning national champs UNC - the Spiders only needed six goals to secure victory.
Defensively, Tanner Scales has been fantastic and could see time on Hatfield. Scott Hooper leads the team in caused turnovers with 18. Virginia needs to improve their transition and unsettled defense as Hopkins took advantage several times last week. Conrad has been phenomenal on both ends of the field. His 12 goals and seven assists show off his offensive talent, but he’s been a huge impact defensively as well. He also leads the team with 49 ground balls.
Richmond is 8-1 on the season, with their lone blemish coming at the hands of dastardly Duke in a close 9-8 game. With four one-goal losses (two in overtime) for the Hoos, this would be a huge win for Virginia. First year Griffin Thompson was outstanding in Virginia’s 18-17 overtime loss to Hopkins last week, and another double-digit save outing from him could be the deciding factor. Also in play, as is the case in every Virginia game this season, is performance from the face off X. Jason Murphy is 57.5% from the X this season, and he’ll be evenly matched with Richmond’s Peter Moran at 57.6%. Keep an eye on play off the turf as Virginia leads the nation with just shy of 47 ground balls per game, while Richmond falls just short of 30 per game.
There are several ways to watch this one, Wahoo fans.