For the first time since 2013, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team is taking part in the ACC tournament. The Hoos, who are hosting the tournament in Charlottesville, earned the No. 4 seed thanks to an extremely convoluted tie-breaker and will face top-seeded Syracuse in the second semifinal tonight at 8:30pm. Duke and Notre Dame square off in the early game at 6:30pm.
Syracuse (7-5, 4-0 ACC) won the regular season matchup with the Cavaliers (10-4, 1-3 ACC) in a 12-11 nail-biter that saw Tucker Dordevic score his fourth goal of the game with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Virginia trailed 7-5 at the half, but failed to score in the third quarter as the Orange built a four goal lead going into the final 15 minutes. The Hoos battled back valiantly, using a four goal run to tie things up at 11 before Dordevic’s game-winner.
The last matchup with Syracuse was when the Hoos lost superstar midfielder Ryan Conrad for the season thanks to a knee (or, lower extremity rather) injury. Virginia looked shaky in the second/third quarters as they adjusted to playing without Conrad, but were unable to pull off the comeback.
Mike D’Amario led the way for Virginia with three goals - all three of which came in the four goal run in the fourth - and Dox Aitken had two goals and three assists in the loss. Michael Kraus was quiet by his standards, scoring twice and adding one assist. Alex Rode finished with 15 saves in cage.
Dordevic led the Orange with his four goals, with Jamie Trimboli, Brett Kennedy, and Bradley Voigt all adding two goals apiece.
Virginia is in the latest bracket per Inside Lacrosse, but the Hoos would do themselves a huge favor with a win tonight over the Orange as far as post-season hopes go. As it stands, Virginia’s win over Loyola is a top-five win and the Hoos are in the top-ten in RPI.
The Hoos and Orange have met 34 times, with Syracuse holding a narrow 18-16 advantage. Virginia has been outscored 442-440 in matchups with Cuse, and the Orange have won the last three games by one goal. It’s safe to say these teams play pretty close games.
Keys to the Game:
Justin Schwenk vs. Danny Varello
Ah, yes, the face off X. Everything starts with possession, and that all comes down to who can win more face offs for their squad. On the season, Virginia’s Justin Schwenk has an impressive 59.5% win percentage. In conference, however, he’s fifth in the league (among those that have taken at least 50 face offs in conference play) with a win percentage of 43.6%. That’s, not ideal.
Last time the two squads met, Varello got the upper hand, winning 13-of-21 against Schwenk (and going 16-for-27 in the game). Part of this may be attributed to losing Conrad as the Hoos went 5-for-13 in the second half, but regardless, Virginia will have to improve in this aspect of the game to have a chance against the Orange.
Alex Rode vs. the Orange Offense
As mentioned above, Rode had 15 saves in the first matchup with Syracuse. The Hoos will need another performance like that out of the first year keeper tonight. In conference, Rode is hovering right around a 50% save percentage at 49.2%. Syracuse averages 35 shots per game in conference, so Rode will see his fair share of action from Cuse attack, though they lack a true superstar on offense.
This isn’t to say the Orange don’t have talented attackmen, they certainly do. Syracuse is balanced offensively with six players in double digit goal scoring on the season and only one - Brendan Bomberry - with more than 20 goals (and he has 21).
Virginia vs. Turnovers
The last time these two teams met, Virginia turned it over a whopping 19 times. That cannot happen again. Virginia has improved over the course of the season in reducing dumb turnovers, and Coach Tiffany accepts that their pace and style will lead to some turnovers. Just not 19 of them, preferably.
Michael Kraus and Dox Aitken vs. Whomever
This duo will get theirs, whether in goals or assists. I’m very high on both Aitken and Kraus - who just earned some big honors - but, especially the latter right now. Kraus leads the ACC in goals (3.25), assists (2.50), points (5.75), and shots (10) per game in conference play. The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year is arguably the best dodging attackman in the country and leads the Hoos with 38 goals, 33 assists, and 71 points. He needs just two goals and seven assists to become the first player in Virginia history to score 40 goals and 40 assists in a single season.
He’s damn good.
His midfield counterpart, Aitken, is second on the team in goals (32) and points (42). He became the fastest Virginia player to score 50 career goals, achieving the feat in just 25 games. Even as a second year, Aitken oozes leadership qualities and has stepped up in on-field leadership in the absence of Conrad.
“Those are two men [Aitken and Kraus] who are All-American caliber lacrosse players who don’t take practices off,” Head Coach Lars Tiffany said of his superstar duo. “I’ve never seen them take even a drill off. It’s such wonderful, easy evidence to tell others, ‘this is how you get better’”.
They Said It:
Aitken told Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
“We have a clear vision. We have our end goal in sight and that’s to be, on Sunday, holding that trophy up.”
How to Watch:
Who: Virginia vs. Syracuse
When: Friday, 27 April, 8:30pm
Where: Klöckner Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
Streaming: Watch ESPN