As the Virginia Cavaliers approach another season as the defending national champions, they’re getting all the preseason hype. Deservedly so, the ‘Hoos have won back-to-back championships and return an elite core.
In particular, the attack group of Connor Shellenberger (preseason 1st team All-American), Matt Moore (2nd team All-American), and Payton Cormier will spearhead an offense that has been unstoppable in recent years. Throw in experienced midfielders like Peter Garno, Jeff Connor, and Xander Dickson alongside Inside Lacrosse’s #1 incoming freshman Griffin Schutz and Sean Kirwan’s offense is once again brimming with talent.
Defensively, the ‘Hoos have an experienced group of poles returning. Led by preseason honorable mention All-American Cade Saustad, that group will hope to mesh well with the #1 freshman goalie and #5 incoming recruit Mathew Nunes who seemingly won the fall goalie battle between one Bobby Gavin who recently transferred to Syracuse.
Then, in the middle of the field, second team All-American and potentially the most love-able guy in college lacrosse Petey LaSalla will man the face-off X while team captain Grayson Sallade provides stability among the short-stick defensive midfielders.
With that group returning, Inside Lacrosse has nearly unanimously ranked UVA at the top of its preseason media poll with 19 of the 20 first place votes going the Wahoos’ way.
Ranked second and receiving that lone other first place vote are the Maryland Terrapins who fell to Virginia in dramatic fashion in last year’s national championship. Of note, the Terps lost their star player and 2021 Tewaaraton Trophy winner Jared Bernhardt to graduation.
Sitting in third is Duke who also lost their best player, Michael Sowers, to graduation. That said, the Blue Devils do return a number of program stalwarts in Joe Robertson, Nakie Montgomery, and Dyson Williams while sophomore attackman Brennan O’Neil appears poised for a breakout second season.
Georgetown — who Virginia embarrassed 14-3 in last year’s quarterfinals — come in at fourth place while Notre Dame fills out the top-five and North Carolina makes it four ACC squads in the top-6.
The ACC’s fifth and final squad Syracuse is a ways down in 12th but enters the first year of the program’s rebuild with lacrosse’s GOAT Garry Gait taking the helm alongside another all-time great and former Syracuse rival Dave Pietramala.
This season, UVA is scheduled to play eight games against the preseason top-20 with two additional contests against teams receiving votes in the poll. Specifically, the ‘Hoos will face off once against #2 Maryland, #3 Duke, #5 Notre Dame, and #19 Johns Hopkins and twice against #6 North Carolina and #12 Syracuse.
Incredibly, Lacrosse Reference has that ranked as only the ninth hardest schedule in college lacrosse.