The Virginia Lacrosse opens this Saturday as the No. 15 Hoos welcome the No. 10 Loyola Greyhounds to Charlottesville. As we look forward to the season (sorry for the break for NSD coverage), we’ve been taking a look at this year’s squad. Monday, we previewed Virginia’s attack unit (and looked at the Hoos’ fresh new helmets). Earlier today, we looked back at Virginia’s season last year. Now, we’ll look at the Cavalier midfield, one that has the potential to be the best in the country.
Virginia graduated just one player with significant minutes, AJ Fish (14 goals, 11 assists), and return arguably two of the best midfielders in the country. On top of that, the Hoos add a top midfield recruit and an unknown entity thanks to a transfer. Let’s take a look:
The Big Three
Ryan Conrad, Jr. - It is mind-blowing to me that Conrad is already an upperclassman. He is one of two team captains (alongside defender Scott Hooper), and an instrumental piece to the success of this team. He’s bought in to Lars Tiffany’s system, playing extremely well as a two-way midfielder. In his second season with the Cavaliers (and the first under Tiffany), Conrad finished 17 goals, 11 assists, a team-high 63 ground balls, and 10 caused turnovers.
Conrad was selected as a first-teamer on Inside Lacrosse’s Preseason DI Media All-America list, as voted by members of the media.
He has a laser of an outside shot, but struggled at times last year with shooting percentage, converting only 25% of his shots.
Dox Aitken, So. - Whoooooa boy Dox Aitken. If not for teammate Michael Kraus, Aitken would have been my bet for ACC Rookie of the Year last season. He absolutely obliterated the Virginia midfielder scoring record, notching 29 goals and 11 assists for 40 points. Not only did he destroy the records for goals and points, he needed just eight and nine games, respectively, to do it.
In his college debut at Loyola, he did this:
Aitken can score in a variety of ways, whether from deep shots with set feet, or dodging his defender for a better angle. At 6’2, 210, he’s not getting pushed around a lot, and he was a formidable defender in his first season. If you didn’t already have high hopes for Aitken, Coach Tiffany has compared his potential this season to Jay Jalbert, a guy who was a member of the 2014 US Lacrosse Hall of Fame class (and finished with 78 goals, 112 points, 2x first team All American, National Champion in ‘99).
If you’re looking for him on the field, he’s in a new jersey this season: No. 6. That sounds like a great fit as Brett Hughes, Ben Rubeor, Steele Stanwick, and Tanner Scales all donned that digit before him.
Ryan Lamb, Jr. - This third spot is fluid, and could be filled by a number of players. Lamb, now a third year, has battled injury in his time at Virginia. He redshirted last season, but the highly touted recruit (rated the No. 18 midfielder in his class by Inside Lacrosse), is finally ready to take the field and make an impact for the Hoos. Coach Tiffany is excited about Lamb, saying Lamb, “...has been really, really surprising - a pleasant surprise.”
At 6’2, 200 pounds, he’s a big player that can dodge and hit from outside. He should see a lot of run alongside Aitken and Conrad this season.
Names to Watch
Matt Moore, Fr. - Moore steps onto Grounds as the No. 1 rated midfield recruit per Inside Lacrosse. He’s another big guy (6’2, 195), and was an Under Armour All-American. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Moore run tons of first line with Conrad and Aitken, but I’m not sure where he stacks up defensively (if he plays two-way).
From Inside Lacrosse:
Chris Merle, Fr. - Well, this isn’t a name I thought we’d be talking about. Merle was a last minute addition to the Hoos as he was originally committed to Lafayette. When Jim Rogalski left to become an assistant at Michigan, Merle re-opened his commitment. He spent one semester with the IMG Academy in Florida before joining the Hoos. Now, he’s skyrocketed up the depth chart. He is a sharpshooter who can hit in stride, and with both hands
“Chris Merle, he just showed up mid-year,” Tiffany said. “He’s really made a positive impact.”
Check out these highlights from high school:
Matt Emery, Cory Harris, and Milan Murray will all also be big players for this offensive midfield. There are several outstanding pieces for Coach Tiffany at the midfield, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the midfield accounts for a huge chunk of Virginia’s scoring. Aitken and Conrad should be All-ACC by the end of the season and well represented on All-America teams. The depth beyond the two superstars is potentially the best the Hoos have had in several seasons.