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Virginia vs. Syracuse Lacrosse: Three things to watch

The Hoos and Orange meet for the first time this season in a heavyweight clash at the Dome.

Larry French

The No. 2 Virginia men’s lacrosse team faces another tough road test this week as the Cavaliers head north to take on No. 9 Syracuse. Virginia is 3-0 on the season with wins over No. 7 Army, No. 12 Loyola, and Towson. The Orange are coming off an 18-11 loss to Army in their season-opener.

Virginia has clicked offensively in its three games so far, scoring an average of 16.3 goals per game.

Here are some storylines to watch as the Hoos and Orange square off tonight.

You’re likely in for a treat

The longstanding (and now conference) rivalry literally could not be any closer. Each team has won 18 of the 36 games played, and the combined score in all games played between the two teams is 466-466.

Virginia got the best of the Orange in the last game between the two. There was no matchup in 2020 thanks to the coronavirus outbreak that shut down the season early, but the Cavaliers snagged an overtime win at Cuse in 2019 behind six points from Michael Krause. The Hoos trailed by four midway through the fourth quarter, but rallied to tie and win in OT.

Per Virginia’s game notes, the last five games in the series have been decided by one goal.

“We’re gonna possess the ball a little bit here because the other team so dangerous when they have the ball,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany told media on Wednesday. “I will say we want to be disruptive. We still want to push our tempo, and we’re going to be aggressive. Not only offensively, but a bit more defensively, too, and certainly with the ride.”

Specialists, specialists, specialists

Good goalie and face off play is always important, but keep an eye on these factors tonight. With both team playing Army so far this season, there is a good comparison point. Virginia’s Petey LaSalla went 12-for-16 (75%) against the Black Knights, with Cuse’s Jakob Phaup winning 17-of-28 (61%). For the season, LaSalla is winning 46-of-63 (73%) and has established himself as one of the better specialists in the country.

In cage, it’s unclear if Alex Rode will be available after missing the last two games. First year Bobby Gavin got the start against Loyola and Army and amassed a 50% save percentage with 90 shots faced. He has struggled early in games, giving up eight first-quarter goals with just two saves. Against Syracuse, both teams will look to get out and run and push pace. It’s important for the Hoos to establish possessions and keep the Orange off the scoreboard early.

Virginia attack is as good as advertised (so far)

There was a lot of discussion around Virginia’s attack before the season started, and with good reason. The Hoos have a strong mix of players like Dox Aitken, Ian Laviano, Payton Cormier, and Matt Moore returning, and they add Charlie Bertrand via transfer and Connor Shellenberger as a redshirt freshman.

Against Loyola, Virginia trailed early and found themselves tied a couple times late in the game. The Cavaliers never worried and partly for a pretty straightforward reason, according to attackman Ian Laviano.

“We have Matt Moore.”

Laviano laughed before continuing, “Using our experience, the other guy’s using our experience...we’ve been in situations being down multiple goals and coming back, you know, using that experience and learning from it. We are always challenging ourselves.”

Cormier (12 goals, three assists) and Shellenberger (seven goals, eight assists) lead the team with 15 points apiece, and Moore has added eight goals in two games. It makes it very difficult for any opponent to cover the Cavaliers without leaving a potentially more dangerous shooter open. Who will Syracuse put a short stick on?

Check out the action tonight at 6pm on the ACC Network.