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Virginia Lacrosse 2020: The Defense

For the first of our positional breakdowns, let’s take a look at the defensive end of the field.

NCAA LACROSSE: MAY 27 NCAA Lacrosse Championships Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia men’s lacrosse season kicks off this Saturday against Loyola, and it’s time to get into the positional break downs. For each unit — offense, midfield, defense, and specialists — we’re going to highlight some of the players that departed, some that return, and who is new for the Hoos in 2020.

Last season, the Cavaliers won the 2019 ACC and NCAA tournaments, thanks in part to stellar defensive play down the stretch. The defense takes the biggest hit coming into this year, losing a couple starters in both close defense and on the wings. “Defensively, we took a step back because of graduation,” head coach Lars Tiffany said at last week’s media availability. “It took us three years to get to the point where we could play at a high level with our team defense...we’ve got a lot of first years playing for us right now, so it’s a step back there.”

For the season, the Hoos allowed 10.3 goals per game, but gave up just 6.5 goals per game in the two title games (four to Notre Dame in ACC finals, nine to Yale in NCAA finals).

Who Left

Logan Greco - Greco started all 20 games for the Hoos, collecting 38 ground balls and causing a second-best 21 turnovers. He earned a spot on the honorable mention All-America team, and was instrumental in Virginia holding Yale to it’s season low in goals scored in the NCAA title game.

Matt Dziama - A defensive midfielder, Dziama had 21 ground balls and four caused turnovers.

Dave Smith - Smith was one of Virginia’s captains and a true leader on the defense. He constantly made hustle plays that resulted in big situations for the Hoos, including a diving save that sparked a transition goal in Virginia’s comeback against UNC in the ACC tournament. Smith’s stats weren’t flashy (12 ground balls, seven caused turnovers), but his presence will be missed this season.

Who Returns

Jared Conners - One of the best long stick midfielders in the country, Conners was a first team All-American in 2019. He played in all 20 games for Virginia, scoring five goals (he has 13 for his career), grabbing 57 ground balls, and causing a team-best 27 caused turnovers. Expect to see Conners on the wings for face offs this season.

Kyle Kology - From walk-on to National Champion. Kology almost didn’t come to Virginia (he wasn’t on scholarship and thought about going to school in California), but he took a chance and has become a key on the defense. His stats won’t wow you (33 ground balls, 16 caused turnovers), but he’s smart and savvy.

Cade Saustad - The big 6’5 Texan started all but one game for the Hoos last year. He’s currently nursing an injury that had him sidelined in last weekend’s scrimmage against Towson, but he shouldn’t miss much (if any) time. He had as many turnovers as caused turnovers last season, so look for him to improve in that part of his game. Saustad was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team with 11 ground balls and three caused turnovers.

John Fox - A team captain, Fox is the most experienced returning defensive midfielder. Fox had three goals (on three shots) last year, grabbed 20 ground balls, and forced 11 turnovers.

Who is New

Quentin Matsui - Matsui is a 6-foot, 200 pound defender from Minnesota. He is part of Virginia’s No. 1 recruiting class, and was named the No. 5 defender of the 2020 class by Inside Lacrosse. Matsui was also an Under Armour All-American. He’ll see action right away, potentially getting the start in game one.

Scott Bower - Like Matsui, Bower is a first year with high expectations on the defense. He is the No. 7 defensive recruit per Inside Lacrosse, and was also an Under Armour All-American. If Bower and Saustad ever share the field, the Hoos will have two Texans on defense as Bower also hails from Dallas.