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Observations from Virginia lacrosse’s scrimmage against Navy

The ‘Hoos got up early and didn’t look back, winning by an unofficial score of 21-7.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Larry French/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

In their second of three preseason scrimmages, the Virginia Cavaliers faced off against the Navy Midshipmen Sunday afternoon. While there were no streams available for these three games, Streaking the Lawn was in attendance for the Navy contest as I live-tweeted the game. For a goal-by-goal recap of the game, check out the STL account.

But, with the win, there was plenty to evaluate for the Wahoos from the contest against a decent Navy squad.

Griffin Schutz in street clothes

Potentially the most significant news of the day was that the top incoming freshman in college lacrosse didn’t suit up against Navy. Instead, he was in street clothes. He did however warmup goalie Mathew Nunes at half time and didn’t appear to be limited as he shot on his classmate.

There also was no obvious sign of injury as he wasn’t wearing a boot or a brace. That said Schutz was seen on crutches earlier this week on Grounds. Hopefully this is just a minor lower body injury that he suffered in practice or against Penn State in last week’s scrimmage and the staff is just taking a cautious approach.

Considering Air Force shouldn’t be too much competition in next Saturday’s season opener, Schutz may stay out a bit longer so that he’s fully healthy when he does return.

The offense is already clicking

Even without Schutz in the game, there were zero signs of rust for the Wahoo offense. An experienced starting attack of Connor Shellenberger, Matt Moore, and Payton Cormier was complemented with more experience among the starting offensive middies Peter Garno, Jeff Conner, and Xander Dickson.

Moore and Shellenberger were dominant all game long as they each scored in a variety of ways while also finding teammates when the help came. By my unofficial count, Shellenberger finished with three goals and four assists while Moore tallied four scores and two assists of his own.

They looked just the part of two of the top players in the country and will prove to be an even tougher force for opponents to stop than they were last season.

The supporting cast was in a rhythm as well as each guy provided something different. Cormier finished one on the doorstep from Shellenberger and bowled his way through the Navy defense for another, Peter Garno had two of his patented step downs, Xander Dickson had two sweet finishes inside, and Jeff Conner had an assist as he did a decent amount of initiating while also getting run on the defensive side of the ball.

Second line midfielders Jack Simmons and Will Cory added a goal apiece while depth pieces Patrick McIntosh and Evan Zinn had late tallies of their own.

The defense got involved in the fun as well as short stick d-middie and team captain Grayson Sallade had a nice step-down in transition and long stick middie Ben Wayer had a ridiculous behind-the-back goal on the crease — potentially signaling as the second coming of Jared Connors.

All that goes to say that this group is exactly where it needs to be heading into the season opener in six days’ time.

Nunes looks comfortable

While two-time national champ Alex Rode decided to forego his final season of eligibility, the ‘Hoos remain in a solid place in the cage. Freshman goalie Mathew Nunes put up a stout showing against the Midshipmen as he made roughly eight saves and mostly only let in goals on his doorstep.

Considering that Nunes was originally in a battle with now Syracuse Orange-man Bobby Gavin, the freshman appeared confident and comfortable. Both in the net commanding the defense and in the clearing game, he was a cool and calm customer as there were no noticeable freshman moments.

The loss of Rode was potentially the team’s biggest after last season so if Nunes can step up to a similar level that would be a massive development for this team.

The defense has options

Another telling element of the scrimmage was just how many long poles the ‘Hoos were able to throw out there. Cade Saustad and Cole Kastner were the mainstays at close while Scott Bower rotated back and forth from playing close and LSM. Wayer also impressed at LSM and 6’6” freshman George Fulton spent time playing down low alongside Jake Giuleri.

Of note, junior Quentin Matsui didn’t see the field against Navy.

Virginia is dominant in the middle of the field

But what truly emphasized the difference between UVA and Navy was the middle of the field. Petey LaSalla dominated at the faceoff-X, but that was just the start of it. UVA was nearly perfect in the clearing game with Nunes in control and the Wahoo midfielders bullies as ball carriers.

Additionally, the Virginia ride was relentless against the Midshipmen. The 10-man press wreaked havoc and forced Navy to make mistake after mistake when trying to advance the ball. The attack were aggressive when Navy’s defenders possessed the ball while UVA’s poles did well to make life difficult for the guys trying to get open in the middle of the field.

Lars Tiffany has talked about wanting the ride to get back to the levels of 2019 and we’re already seeing early signs of that.

All in all, Virginia is already polished heading into the regular season. Navy isn’t great, but they did receive votes in Inside Lacrosse’s top-20 poll and have some talent on the roster.

The ‘Hoos kick off their double title defense next Saturday against Air Force in the friendly confines of Klöckner Stadium at 1:00pm.