Tomorrow is a huge day in Charlottesville when it comes to Virginia Athletics. The GameDay crew is already in town in anticipation of the No. 2 basketball team clashing with VaTech tomorrow with the broadcast happening at 11am and the game tipping at 6:15. Sandwiched between the two, however, is the season opener for the No. 15 Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team.
The Hoos welcome No. 10 Loyola to Klöckner for an afternoon tilt that will be broadcast by ACC Network Extra. This is the fifth straight season that the Hoos and Greyhounds have met in the opener, with three of the last four being decided by a goal (one in overtime). Virginia took last season’s matchup, topping Loyola 16-15 in Baltimore in a barnburner to start the Lars Tiffany era.
This year, the Greyhounds bring offensive firepower and a fresh (but kind of familiar) face at the faceoff X that should pose a stiff test for the Hoos.
Loyola on Offense
The Greyhounds scored 12.38 goals per game last season, led by possible Tewaaraton candidate Pat Spencer. He struggled against the Hoos last year with no goals and just two assists, but he finished the season with 28 goals and 55 assists. He will most likely be flanked by two freshmen on attack in Kevin Lindley and Aiden Olmstead with the graduation of Zack Sirico, but there’s a possibility that you see their outstanding midfielder Alex McGovern spending some time on attack.
McGovern spent some time playing attack in Loyola’s preseason scrimmages and is coming off a season where he had a very balanced 24 goals and 20 assists. Last season, McGovern, a former North Carolina Tar Heel, had a team-high five points (two goals, three assists) against Virginia.
Other players to watch include midfielders Jay Drapeau (20 goals) and John Duffy (13 goals), and Syracuse transfer Devin Shewell.
I anticipate Virginia’s Scott Hooper starting on Spencer, but am curious what the Hoos do with McGovern. Kyle Kology will be playing in his first game after walking on to the team, and I expect there’s a possibility Coach Tiffany decides to pole Drapeau and Duffy over Loyola’s third attackman.
Loyola on Defense
Last season, Loyola held opponents to just 6.8 goals and 28.3 shots per game over the final ten games of the year. That’s stingy. As the Hoos like to run and gun, it will be interesting to see how they fare against the Greyhound defense. Goalie Jacob Stover was fourth in the NCAA last year with a 7.74 goals against average and will anchor the defense. Foster Huggins (36 ground balls, 17 caused turnovers) and Ryder Harkins (11 ground balls, 11 caused turnovers) return for Loyola head coach Charley Toomey. Junior Paul Volante returns, having started five of the 14 games he played in last year.
Per Loyola, the Greyhounds caused 103 of their opponents’ 152 turnovers last season.
With Michael Kraus, Mike D’Amario, Ryan Conrad, Dox Aitken, and the depth the Hoos possess offensively, I give the advantage here to Virginia, but Stover is a solid goal keeper. Ball movement will be key to move him off his spots, and the Hoos have to work the ball around.
Virginia will have their hands full at the face off X. The fact that Graham Savio has now graduated, along with his 56% win percentage would normally be a good thing. That changes when you factor in little bro Bailey following in his footsteps.
From Inside Lacrosse’s Dan Aburn: “Bailey has been described as a bigger, stronger version of his brother with the potential to be just as dominant.”
Last year, Loyola edged the Hoos at the faceoff X, winning 19 to Virginia’s 16. The wings will be important for the Cavaliers as top face off man Jason Murphy graduated. Luke Brugel, Justin Schwenk (transfer from Monmouth), and Dave Smith will be featured at the X for the Hoos and will have their hands full with Savio.
This one has all the makings of another one-goal game. Both Loyola and Virginia have some marquis goal scorers and tough midfielders. Unfortunately for the Hoos, the big questions still remain on defense and at the X. Can Virginia win 45% of the face offs? Will the defense do better with slides? Will turnovers be a problem? I like the matchup of the Virginia attack against Loyola’s defense, but possession could be an issue. Rain could potentially make this game sloppy, which I think favors Virginia.
I’m going with the Hoos getting a statement win to open the season, 16-14.