In an overtime thriller, the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team took its first loss of the season, falling to the Maryland Terrapins 14-13. In a game of runs, the ‘Hoos were down 3-0 early in the first quarter before storming back to take a 6-3 lead. Maryland responded in turn, notching a goal before the end of the half and then outscoring UVA 6-3 in the third stanza to take a 10-9 lead into the fourth quarter.
Two more Terp scores to start the final quarter left Lars Tiffany’s team with a three-goal deficit. But, reminiscent of the 2019 Virginia team, the Wahoos scored three goals in the last 3:41 of play including two in the span of 38 seconds within the last two minutes to send the game to overtime. Despite a number of really good shots in transition and a few massive stops from the defense, Maryland eventually wore UVA down with Daniel Kelly’s step-down shot getting past Matt Nunes to seize victory.
With the loss, we have five takeaways for the Cavaliers moving forward.
While tough, this loss doesn’t define this team
At the end of the day, Virginia losing this game absolutely stings. After last season’s pair of blowout losses, with the biggest crowd at Klockner Stadium since 2013, and as the ‘Hoos seemed like the better team coming in and for much of the game, falling in such dramatic fashion is tough.
But, while there is noticeable room for improvement and areas where UVA struggled, this result doesn’t have massive implications for the overall assessment of this team. Contrary to the midseason loss to the Terps last spring, this was a result that points to Virginia as a potentially elite team that needs to be better in a few areas to beat the best in the country. Games against current #2 Notre Dame and #3 Duke over the next two weekends provide a great opportunity to bounce back and pick up quality resume wins.
Virginia doesn’t quite toe the line between necessary aggression and over-aggression
One of the most fun parts of watching this program is to see how well Virginia can dominate games in the middle of the field and convert in transition, jumping out to big leads and knocking opponents out by stringing together goals in quick succession. Unfortunately, against the quality of opponent and style of Maryland, some of that aggression got turned on its head.
Five early turnovers and 16 total were evidence of the offense perhaps trying to make a few too many tough passes. More prominently, ill-advised shots early in possessions, especially in the third quarter, often left UVA’s defense on the field for far too long and allowed Maryland to have enough settled, long offensive possessions to find the back of the net and consequently prevent Virginia’s high-powered attack from finding a rhythm.
Even after Lars Tiffany emphasized slowing the game down and looking to have more settled play on offense five minutes into the third quarter, there were still a few too many forces. A no-no-no-no-YES! Evan Zinn goal in transition shortly thereafter did prove why running can be so valuable. Yet a poor Petey LaSalla shot and a couple ones that were taken too quickly on the next two possessions meant Maryland pulled ahead 9-8 with 5:19 left in the third.
Additionally, Zinn’s 15-yard step down shot in overtime was maybe not the best decisions considering the ‘Hoos had a four on three with Connor Shellenberger open and either in-line for a time and room shot from far closer or able to hit two of the nation’s best finishers in Xander Dickson and Payton Cormier down low.
Of course, it’s easy to nit-pick little things about a loss and, had Thomas McConvey or Zinn finished the two looks that came after that play, this might not even be a talking point. But there is also a reality that UVA probably needs to be a bit more disciplined against teams as good and well-coached as Maryland. This is nothing drastic and isn’t meant to be overly critical, but being a bit more reserved will probably yield some better results for Virginia against the top tier of college lacrosse this spring.
UVA’s shooters didn’t hit the net enough
It’s perhaps quite obvious given the one-goal loss, but the Cavaliers’ shooters simply didn’t hit the back of the net enough against Maryland. Freshman goalie Brian Ruppel made 13 saves (51.9%) while two of Virginia’s most dangerous offensive threats Connor Shellenberger and Xander Dickson each shot just 1-7 on the day. Some of those were just Ruppel making really good saves, others weren’t the best quality of shots.
Beyond just those two, UVA as a team had its worst shooting performance of the season, canning 13 of their 46 shots (28.3%). Again, Ruppel was truly special in this game. But McConvey (4-8) and fellow Canadian Payton Cormier — who played heroically, scoring three goals on five shots in this game despite being on crutches last week — were the only Wahoos to shoot at or better than 50%. Particularly early in the game, the shot selection left something to be desired by settling for a number of low angle looks.
Again, UVA still only lost this game in overtime. Each player above made critical, big plays throughout the game and all ought to hold their heads high. Yet there does remain some room to get better and to emphasize taking better shots against good goalies, such as Notre Dame’s Liam Entenmann next week.
Petey LaSalla neutralizes Luke Wierman
On the undoubtedly positive side of things, Petey LaSalla was incredibly good at the faceoff dot against Luke Wierman. After Wierman absolutely dominated him in the two games in 2022, LaSalla went toe to toe with the best faceoff man in the country over the past two seasons, finishing 15-30 with just as many wins as his Terrapin opponent. Even if he didn’t score in the game (which feels weird to write about a faceoff guy, but that’s just how good he is offensively), LaSalla was so effective for all four quarters and forced Maryland into an even-possession game, something they haven’t truly had to play in years.
While LaSalla is in the second tier amongst D-1 FOGOs in true winning percentage, he made his presence felt in this game and reiterated just how good he is at the faceoff dot, even separate from what he brings to the Virginia offense.
Thomas McConvey clutches up on offense
Despite some struggles from a few of his teammates, Thomas McConvey played a lights out game of lacrosse with four goals and an assist. With a diving goal at the end of the third quarter to pull the ‘Hoos back within one, he also scored the game-tying goal with 78 seconds left to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk his shot in overtime to win the game, this would’ve been a legendary performance from the fifth year transfer.
Still, though, the way McConvey was able to win his individual matchup consistently in this game is a sign of how this year’s offense is a step ahead of last season’s. The plethora of players who warrant being guarded by a pole means that somebody will always be able to dodge the short stick or attack the weakest pole. McConvey is a major part of that and his success against Maryland points to both how good he is individually and how complete this Virginia offense is.