Advancing to 3-0 on the young season and cementing their spot as the first ranked team in the country, the #1 Virginia Cavaliers dominated the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes, 17-6 on Saturday night. The game was back and forth for the first quarter and a half, but UVA took control as the ‘Hoos went on a 12-2 run after Ohio State closed the score to 5-4 with 4:28 left in the first half. With the win, we’ve got five takeaways for the Cavaliers moving forward.
UVA lacrosse picks up a really quality win
After disposing of borderline top-20 teams Michigan and Harvard, Virginia took care of business against a really quality Ohio State team. With a stellar defense chock-full of strong individual defenders and an offense led by one of the country’s best attackmen in Jack Myers, Ohio State will be contending for the top spot in the BIG10 this year and are practically a lock to make the NCAA Tournament in May.
Starting the year 3-0 against this batch of teams is impressive and underscores Virginia as the top team in the country. The Cavaliers easily have the best resume in the nation at this point in the season and have set themselves up well. Next week’s contest with Richmond shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering how the Spiders upset UVA last season. But with that game, a road contest against a stingy but flawed Johns Hopkins squad, and another home game against Towson, Virginia has a good shot at being 6-0 before playing it’s next top-10 opponent with #9 Maryland (who just beat #3 Princeton, 11-5) coming to Charlottesville on March 18th. The bulk of the season is no doubt still ahead, but you realistically couldn’t have asked for a better start for the Wahoos.
UVA offense finds a way to produce while Connor Shellenberger is limited
One of UVA’s biggest issues last season was the offense’s inability to score against top defenses when Connor Shellenberger couldn’t win his individual matchup. Against Ohio State and the stout Bobby Van Buren last night, Shellenberger wasn’t able to consistently get a step or power through Van Buren as he finished with no goals and two assists.
Granted, Shellenberger still found ways to impact the game, picking up four ground balls, causing one turnover, and playing intelligently in the middle of the OSU defense as he complicated the Buckeyes’ slide packages and generated space for his teammates with how much of a threat he is when he catches the ball.
But, what would have been (and was) a significantly limiting factor for last year’s offense simply wasn’t for the Wahoos against Ohio State. Recognizing that Shellenberger wasn’t having success against Van Buren early, Virginia’s offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan subbed Truitt Sunderland in for Xander Dickson at attack to provide more of a distributing presence, had Shelleberger play up top and on the crease rather than from behind, and emphasized initiating the offense with other guys. That was an inspired adjustment from Kirwan and displayed Shellenberger’s selflessness and willingness to acknowledge when something isn’t working for him and still work to help his teammates produce.
As for the complementary pieces and how they faired, Sunderland had his best performance of his young career with a goal and two assists as he took on the role of that secondary quarterback. Xander Dickson was similarly effective with a pair of goals and assists while other first-line midfielders Griffin Schutz (1G, 1A), Thomas McConvey (2A), and Jeff Conner (1G) also got in on the action.
Meanwhile, depth pieces Peter Garno (1G, 1A), Patrick McIntosh (1G, 1A), and Ricky Miezan (1G) provided a scoring punch from down the depth chart. Garno’s passing off the dodge was especially impressive as his initiation off an alley dodge resulted in two scores. And, of course, FOGO Petey LaSalla scored two goals in his third straight game with both coming early in the game when UVA was struggling in its settled offense.
Obviously, the name I haven’t mentioned yet is that of Payton Cormier, who deserves his own entire takeaway. The way he dominated off-ball and against mismatches was a sight to see and was both an incredibly individual display of talent and a sign of how this UVA offense can win in so many different ways.
Altogether, UVA scoring 17 goals against what will be a top-five defense in the country while Shellenberger didn’t net one is a terrifying prospect for the rest of college lacrosse. There are too many players on this offense who need to be defended by a long pole, and the depth of scoring is legitimate.
Payton Cormier dominates
One of the most criminally underrated players in college lacrosse, Cormier absolutely feasted against Ohio State as the Buckeyes challenged him to beat them. Defending him with a short stick for the majority of the game, OSU got a lesson in exactly why doing that is entirely unsustainable. Even without Shellenberger creating the typical separation he does and drawing as much of the defense’s attention, Cormier dominated on the interior and scored multiple times with defenders draped all over him. On one play he even beat a pole with a dodge from the wing where he got topside and ripped the ball home.
Scoring seven goals on 12 shots, Cormier set a career-high for goals in one game and tied former teammate Ian Laviano for career goals at UVA with 122, good for 13th in program history. All while Cormier still has another year of eligibility. His efficiency is ridiculous and the ability he has to convert when given a sliver of space is second to none. The expectation that he’ll score whenever he shoots is Kyle Guy-esque. The man they call the “Oakville Ox” embarrassed Ohio State for deciding to short-stick him and will have sent a message to all of Virginia’s future opponents that doing so is not a viable strategy.
Virginia defense wreaks havoc
While the offense was lights out against the Buckeyes, the Wahoo defense had its best outing of the season by holding OSU to just six goals and only two in the last 34:27 of play. Notably, OSU’s first two goals came by a Buckeye defensive midfielder fooling Thomas McConvey in the clearing game and from a half-field open net goalie goal when Virginia was in its ten-man ride.
Any time a defense causes twice as many turnovers (12) as goals allowed, it was a good night. Virginia’s starting close defenders combined for seven caused turnovers while the short stick defensive midfielders all played essentially flawless lacrosse for 60 minutes.
After UVA’s starting defense allowed 13 goals in 60 minutes versus Michigan and 13 in 49 (before being pulled) against Harvard, there was some slightly reasonable concern about that side of the ball for Virginia. Well, while the ‘Hoos will face better, more talented offenses, they did phenomenally well against Ohio State and displayed how UVA can win in different ways. The talent is absolutely there for this defense. It felt like a matter of time before things clicked, and the fact that that has already happened to this extent in late February is a fantastic indication for where the defense and the team will be later in the season.
Cade Saustad comes up huge versus Jack Myers
As Payton Cormier was the offensive MVP for Kirwan’s offense, his classmate Cade Saustad was the MVP for Lars Tiffany’s defense last night. While the younger and (somehow) taller Cole Kastner was typically Virginia’s top individual defender last season, Saustad got the assignment against Jack Myers. In impressive fashion, he alone had four caused turnovers and effectively neutralized Myers who had only two goals on 10 shots.
Saustad has struggled with lower body injuries throughout his career. But if he can play like this throughout the season, that gives UVA two legitimate shut-down defenders who can take on any given matchup and be expected to limit an opponent’s offense. Virginia will play more elite attackmen this season, such as Pat and Chris Kavanagh of Notre Dame, so the Saustad-Kastner duo will be even more critical in games against more potent offenses. But this is yet another really encouraging signal for UVA and its place above the best in college lacrosse so far this season.