The No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers face off against North Carolina on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the 2019 ACC Men’s Lacrosse tournament. The Cavaliers are the top-seeded squad in the tournament, while the fifth-seeded Tar Heels are coming off of a late rally to take out No. 4 seed Syracuse on Thursday night. North Carolina trailed the Orange, 10-7, with 3:50 remaining in the fourth quarter. UNC would go on to score four unanswered goals to keep their season alive and set up the matchup with the Hoos.
Virginia finished the regular season 11-3 and went 3-1 in the ACC to finish atop the league standings. When the two squads met earlier this season, the Cavaliers emerged victorious in Charlottesville, 11-10. Michael Kraus had five goals in the game, and midfielder Dox Aitken notched the game-winning goal with 1:43 left on the clock. First year Petey LaSalla was phenomenal at the face off X, winning 17-of-23 against North Carolina’s platoon of three players.
After opening the season 1-2, the Cavaliers have gone 10-1 over the last 11 games with the lone loss coming at Duke without Kraus. It’s unclear whether the Hoos will have the third year attackman for Saturday’s game; he has missed the last three games with a “lower extremity” injury.
Second year Matt Moore, who moved to attack this season from midfield, is second on the team in goals (34), and leads the team in assists (25) and points (59). Kraus has played just 11 of the team’s 14 goals, but is second in points with 51 points (29 goals, 22 assists). Second year Ian Laviano leads the team with 37 goals on the season.
One thing to keep an eye on in the game is midfielder Dox Aitken — one of four Cavaliers named to the All-ACC team — as he’s two points away from setting the Virginia midfielder points record. Aitken is currently knotted with Brian Carroll with 128 career points, needing two to pass Shamel Bratton at 129. Keep in mind, Aitken is a third year.
Keys to the game
- Shot placement - Virginia outshot UNC 52-34 in the last matchup, but only 23 were on cage. North Carolina keeper Caton Johnson had 12 saves for the Tar Heels, but Virginia made things way too easy for him.
- Goalie Play - Virginia has gone with second year Alex Rode for the majority of the season, and he’s saving just shy of 50% of shots faced. If he’s not in cage, the Hoos don’t lose much with superstar first year Patrick Burkinshaw. Rode played the full 60 minutes against North Carolina last time out, getting 14 saves in the win.
- Possession is paramount - UNC was able to mount its comeback against Syracuse because they took over at the face off X down the stretch. Virginia leads the nation in ground balls per game, and LaSalla’s 61% win percentage at the X helps the Hoos get the ball. Another factor will be on the clear as Virginia holds opponents to a 70% clear rate, good for best in the nation. Extra possessions will help the Hoos control the game.
- Will Kraus play? - As mentioned, Kraus had five goals in Virginia’s regular season win over the Heels. He’s been out for three straight, and the offense struggled to score against Duke as they only scored seven goals. The Hoos had back-to-back 20+ goal games to end the season against VMI and Marist, but can the offense click against an ACC team without Kraus?
Face off is set for 2pm in Chapel Hill, and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU. If Virginia wins, the Cavaliers will host the ACC tournament title game next weekend in Charlottesville.