The No. 9 Virginia men’s lacrosse team has a huge opportunity on Saturday afternoon as they travel to South Bend to take on No. 6 Notre Dame at noon. Virginia is 6-2 on the season, but both losses have come handily to ACC foes Syracuse and North Carolina. The ACC is absolutely stacked once again this year — Virginia is last in the ACC and is ranked No. 9 nationally if that gives you any idea — but the Hoos have four more chances in conference play to pick up some wins.
The last time these two teams met, Virginia took down the Irish 10-4 to win the 2019 ACC tournament title. Virginia also won the regular season matchup, coming back to take a 13-11 win.
Here are three things to watch heading into today’s game.
Virginia fans were rightfully excited to get All-American midfielder Dox Aitken back just before the season started. Aitken had planned to use his fifth year of eligibility to play college football at Villanova, but thanks to the pandemic, the season never happened. Thankfully, Aitken was able to return to Virginia, but his return has been slow.
Before the season started, head coach Lars Tiffany commented that Aitken was in “football shape” and needed to work to get his lateral movements, conditioning, and technique back to lacrosse speed. In Virginia’s Saturday win over Robert Morris, Aitken scored three goals and looked more like himself than he had all season.
For Tiffany, Aitken’s performance in practice predicted his three goal outing against the Colonials. “It was, ’whoa, whoa, Dox is back,’” Tiffany said on Wednesday. “If it was insider trading, if he was a stock, I’ll put some money [down], this stock’s going up. Rarely was that obvious, and rarely am I that right, but I was telling everybody Dox is back.”
Will shooting woes continue?
Against Syracuse, Virginia scored 10 goals on 40 shots (25%). It was worse against North Carolina as the Hoos converted just 13 of 62 shots (21%). After the loss to the Tar Heels, Tiffany doubled down on shooting technique to help his squad improve. Tiffany said they spent time in practice just focusing on shooting mechanics and placement, and you saw improvement against RMU with 14 goals on 35 shots (40%).
With the talent Virginia has on attack with Payton Cormier, Connor Shellenberger, Matt Moore, Charlie Bertrand, Dox Aitken, and Ian Laviano, Tiffany has high expectations.
“The advanced shooter, the sophisticated shooter, can incorporate the scouting report and — in that quarter-of-a-second to three-quarters-of-a-second — change things up and make a difference,” Tiffany explained. “That’s what we challenge certain guys [to do].”
It won’t be easy, however. Notre Dame is always known for their stout defense, and this season is no different as they’ve held all four of their opponents to seven goals or fewer.
Face offs are key
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Virginia’s Petey LaSalla is No. 10 in the country with a 68% win percentage at the X, but two Notre Dame players — No. 1 Kyle Gallagher (85%) and No. 5 Charles Leonard (71%) — are ahead of him in the NCAA rankings. To be fair, LaSalla has won more face offs (124) than those two have taken combined (89). Against Robert Morris, LaSalla went a perfect 12-for-12 in the first half and finished with 23 wins in 28 attempts.
LaSalla comes into todays game as the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Week after becoming the first Virginia player in program history to win 20+ face offs in back-to-back games. He had 21 against North Carolina before the 23 wins against RMU.
The game gets underway at noon on ESPNU.