The Virginia Lacrosse season is here, and the No. 6 Cavaliers open with a road test at No. 4 Loyola on Saturday. Virginia’s 2018 season ended at the hands of the Greyhounds in Baltimore as Loyola knocked the Hoos out of the NCAA tournament in the first round, 14-12. This is the sixth straight matchup between the two schools to open the season, with Virginia winning in Charlottesville last year, 13-12, thanks to an overtime winner from Dox Aitken. Four out of the last five season openers between the two have been decided by one goal, with Virginia’s lone loss in that stretch coming in an 11-4 blowout.
Virginia finished last season 12-6, including a big ACC win over North Carolina. The Hoos made the ACC tournament final before falling to Notre Dame.
To get you ready for Saturday’s game — set for a noon faceoff — we’ve put together a short primer. Let’s get to it!
Attack - This is one of the best units in the country, headlined by third year Michael Kraus. He led the team with 83 points last season — the 2nd best single season points in Virginia lacrosse history — with 44 goals and 39 assists. Kraus was a Tewaaraton finalist and is a pre-season All-American (despite being snubbed last season). He’s...very good. Alongside Kraus is second year Ian Laviano, who is looking to build off of a first year performance that saw him score 37 goals and start 16 of 18 games. The third starting spot is a little up in the air as Coach Tiffany looks to replace the craft Mike D’Amario.
Fourth year Mikey Herring (12 goals, 18 assists) will likely see a lot of playing time. First year Payton Cormier is out for the season with an injury, but fellow first year Xander Dickson could get some burn. I also wouldn’t put it past Coach Tiffany to move a midfielder (like Matt Moore) to the attack at times.
Midfield - Stop me if this sounds familiar, but this is one of the best units in the country. Virginia gets Ryan Conrad back after he missed the majority of the season last year with a knee injury, has a bonafide superstar in Dox Aitken, and some incredible depth. Conrad’s return is huge for the Cavaliers not just because he can score and facilitate, but because he’s a monster on ground balls and is a true two-way midfielder.
Aitken is an All-American caliber player and became the fastest midfielder to score 50 career goals at Virginia, which is more incredible considering the plethora of talented midfielders that have come before him in Charlottesville. He finished the season with 39 goals and 12 assists.
Second year Matt Moore is coming off a strong first year campaign with 19 goals and 15 assists that earned him ACC Freshman of the Year. First years Jeff Conners and Grayson Sallade join the fray, the latter in a more defensive midfield role. Matt Dziama and Dave Smith return to anchor Virginia’s short-stick d-middie squad.
Defense - The biggest question marks exist on the defensive end. Although the unit improved from Tiffany’s first to second year, he’s still working on getting his type of players and fully instilling the athletic defense he likes to employ. Fifth year Logan Greco returns, as does second year Kyle Kology. First year Cade Saustad is going to play a huge role right out the gate, and the 6’5, 215 pound defender out of Dallas, TX has incredible stick skills that will help the Hoos immensely.
Will Rock and Jared Conners are back on the wings, and these two are huge assets as long stick midfielders. Conners is the scoring threat that Coach Tiffany likes to have on the field, scoring six goals and dishing out six assists last season.
Goalie - Alex Rode returns for the Hoos after a first year that saw him save 49% of shots faced. He had stiff competition in the preseason from incoming first year Pat Burkinshaw and third year Griffin Thompson. Rode was the No. 1 goalie in his class, and he’s got good vision, good hands, and an excellent (and quick) outlet pass for the break.
Faceoff - What a pleasant surprise Justin Schwenk was last season. The Monmouth transfer won 59.8% of his faceoffs, and set a new school record with 242 won faceoffs on the season. Possession is always important (you have to have the ball to score, you know), but having a consistent presence at the X in games where Virginia plays such a fast pace is huge.
Lars Tiffany is entering his third year at the helm of the Hoos. Virginia has improved year over year, and is a legitimate Final Four contender this season. He likes to play a fast-paced, high intensity brand of lacrosse, and he has the athletes to do it. The defense is a work in progress, but Tiffany likes to extend and put pressure on opposing players, force turnovers, and run in transition (so, think the exact opposite of Tony Bennett).
The New Rules
WE GOT NEW RULES! If you tune into a game this year, you’ll see a shot clock. The 80 second shot clock is new to this year, and will prevent teams (I’m looking at you, Maryland and Notre Dame) from stalling or taking the air out of the ball. This could lead to more saves (bad shots late in the shot clock), but is awesome as it takes the subjective nature of the stall completely out of the game.
Also, the dive is back! Previously banned due to injuries caused, the NCAA has allowed the dive once again this season. Contact with the goalie is a 1-minute penalty, and it could get contentious as there was already a questionable call between Duke and Furman where a Furman goal was wiped out after the Duke goalie initiated contact.
How To Watch
Virginia vs. Loyola
Online: Patriot League Network