The Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team has a long and involved history with the Maryland Terrapins. The two used to be conference foes and have met 91 times over the course of their programs. In fact, per the notes released by Virginia prior to the game, Saturday’s meeting with Maryland will make the UVA-Maryland series the most played in the Cavaliers’ history, breaking a tie with Johns Hopkins.
And yet, the two border rivals haven’t met since 2014, Maryland’s last year as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terps hold a 47-44 edge in the series, but the last time the two met in the NCAA tournament, this happened:
“Obviously Maryland is a fantastic program,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said of their neighbors to the north. “I don’t know if anyone has been more successful than them overall, obviously not in terms of championships...but boy, Maryland is consistently in that Final Four.”
No current members of the team have faced Maryland in a game, though the Hoos had a preseason scrimmage against the Terps last year. Maryland is unseeded in this year’s tournament, and the Terps managed a last second goal to force overtime against Towson in last weekend’s first round matchup. Louis Dubick’s second goal of the game sent Maryland to the next round, and the Terps are hoping to make it six straight trips to the Final Four.
Virginia’s high-powered offense and recently sharp defense are hoping to get in the way of Maryland’s plans. The Hoos ran past Robert Morris on Saturday to return to the second weekend for the first time since 2012. Mikey Herring (six goals) and Ryan Conrad (five goals) led the way for the Cavaliers, and face off man Justin Schwenk dominated to the tune of 22-for-28 after stepping in for first year Petey LaSalla (stomach bug).
Now, the ACC champion Cavaliers have a chance to continue a season that has put Virginia back into the national discussion. “This is the best time of year,” Tiffany told the media on Wednesday. “We’re really grateful that we get to play more lacrosse in May.”
Keys to the game
Face offs - Maryland utilizes multiple players at the face off X, with Austin Henningsen leading the way with a 145-of-243 (59.7%) mark on the season. Justin Shockey (80-of-155, 51.6%) is a more than formidable back up, and with Wesley Janeck factored in, the Terps win 55% as a team. LaSalla has been outstanding for the Cavaliers in his opening season in Charlottesville, winning 177-of-296 (59.8%), with Schwenk chipping in a 54% win percentage.
“Fantastic at the face off X,” Tiffany said of the Terps. “They seem to always be good there, and deep. They can go two, three deep at the face-off X. No one else can do that.”
Maryland likes to play a more methodical pace, even with the new shot clock rules, and possessions will be important for the Cavaliers early to dictate pace. Virginia is best in the nation with just shy of 42 ground balls per game, so getting the ball off the turf on the wings will be crucial for the Hoos’ success.
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! - Virginia’s defense has looked more sound in the past four weeks than the rest of the season combined. The Hoos closed the regular season by holding VMI and Marist to just five and six goals, respectively. After UNC scored 13 in the ACC tournament semifinals (only two in the fourth quarter as Virginia made their comeback), the Hoos dominated Notre Dame and held the Irish to just four goals in a 10-4 ACC title win. Robert Morris scored 10, but averaged 14 goals per game on the season.
Part of the recent success is the emergence of a more vocal Alex Rode in cage. According to defender Logan Greco, Rode’s (49.8% save percentage) maturity has been a huge key for the Hoos. “He’s gone from someone who never talks to someone who chirps in practice,” Greco said. “Him comfortable makes us comfortable, less antsy, and just his maturity as a goalkeeper and as a kid has helped our defense in the last couple weeks.”
“It’s really helped,” Tiffany said. “Alex Rode said nothing the first 15 months on Grounds. The defensemen in front of him want to hear him, they want to hear that confidence.”
They’ll need the confidence as they face the likes of Jared Bernhardt (47 goals), Logan Wisnauskas (42 goals), and Dubick (29 goals).
Stay clear - This goes hand-in-hand with the possessions part mentioned above, but Virginia’s ability to disrupt on the clear could have an incredible impact on the game. In cases where Maryland gets a stop (Danny Dolan saves 52% of shots faced for the season), no one makes things harder for their opponent than the Hoos. Virginia’s opponent clear percentage of 69.8% is best in the nation, and attackmen Ian Laviano, Michael Kraus, and Matt Moore love to get involved in the ride almost as much as Coach Tiffany loves to see it.
“You see how loud the bench gets when we’re riding,” Tiffany described of the ride after the Robert Morris game. “They’re just feeding the guys on the field, exciting them.” Tiffany has dubbed the 20-second failure to advance violations (think: 10-second call in basketball) “Tony Bennett closeouts”.
Offense, offense, offense - Virginia has a ton of guys that can put the ball in the back of the net, and it all starts with midfielder-turned-attack Matt Moore. The second year leads the team in points with 77 (38 goals, 39 assists) and has been a force down the stretch. Around him on attack are Ian Laviano (43 goals) and Michael Kraus (34 goals, 28 assists). In the midfield, Dox Aitken has broken every Virginia midfielder points record by this point in his third year (38 goals), and Ryan Conrad (24 goals, 17 assists, 79 ground balls) is just about as close as you can get to an actual Swiss Army Knife as a player.
Maryland averages just shy of 13 goals per game, so the Virginia offense will need to be clicking to take down the Terps.
Virginia takes on Maryland at noon on Saturday at Hofstra, and the game will be televised by ESPNU.