Remaining unbeaten with a shellacking of a solid Richmond squad, the Virginia Cavaliers got revenge over the Spiders after losing to them last season with a convincing 25-8 victory last night. Now 4-0 on the season and clearly amongst the best (if not above them) in college lacrosse, UVA is rolling in practically every facet of the game.
With the Wahoos getting set to play Johns Hopkins this coming Tuesday, we have five takeaways for the team moving forward.
UVA offense remains scorching hot
Scoring 25 goals in a game against respectable competition doesn’t just happen in lacrosse. This isn’t common or normal, yet Virginia has now put up 25 in two of the team’s last three games with 17-goal performances against Michigan and Ohio State as the “quieter” performances from the Wahoo offense so far this season.
Beyond just the sheer production, the variety of players it’s coming from is absurd. The fact that arguably the nation’s best player in Connor Shellenberger can play as a cog in the greater machine is a testament to how freaking talented every cog in the machine is and just how well it’s run by Assistant Coach and offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan.
Against Richmond, Xander Dickson scored six goals on seven shots. Payton Cormier notched three goals and added an impressive three assists. Patrick McIntosh flashed his potential in a career-best three goal, two assist performance. Thomas McConvey was somehow a quiet three and one. Griffin Schutz had two highlight-reel scores along with an assist. Late in the game, Jeff Conner, Will Cory, Tucker Mullen, and Will Inderlied all got in on the action as well with a goal apiece. Oh, yeah, and Connor Shellenberger scored a goal and added three helpers in a pretty ho-hum performance from the Tewaaraton favorite.
The crazy part is that there was more to come from goals in transition while the starting offense really only played two and a half quarters together. LSM Mitchell Whalen scored his first career goal off a Shellenberger feed, while SSDM Noah Chizmar continues to display how good he is in transition with a pair of scores with fellow starting defensive midfielder Grayson Sallade notching a pair of assists.
Yes, there are better defenses that will challenge this team more than the Richmonds and the Harvards of the world. But last week’s 17 goals against Ohio State and this endless onslaught of scores that comes from UVA’s starting offense against opponents that can’t match up with every single possible weapon Virginia throws at its opponents is pointing to the fact that his offense is quite simply elite. There will be times when the Wahoos will need to be more patient in their offensive sets when better defenses prevent them from scoring off the first initial actions. But the levels of talent, chemistry, and overall unselfishness on this offense are absolutely special
Petey LaSalla can make this team even better
Entering last night’s game, Petey LaSalla was at a 56% winning percentage so far this season after winning just 47.6% against Ohio State a week ago. But, in a game where he adjusted well to how Richmond was countering him at the X by winning the ball back to himself rather than forward, he finished an absurd 19/26 (73.1%) at the faceoff X with 10 ground balls.
After the game, Lars Tiffany credited LaSalla for being unselfish in committing to winning the ball behind him because of how Richmond played him, thereby limiting his own offensive production but allowing his wings to get involved in the transition offense instead.
The offensive threat LaSalla brings to the table for the Wahoos is well established as is his (and the team’s) comfort with the ball in his stick. But dominating like this versus Richmond’s Jared Chonoy (who had won 60% of his attempts this season before last night) is a sign that LaSalla is getting healthier and is thus getting even better at winning a higher percentage of his draws. Throw in a respectable 5-10 (50%) outing for freshman Mac Eldridge and we’re starting to see the Wahoos establish an additional advantage in the middle of the field along with their dominance in their settled offense and (in the last two contests) defense.
Ricky Miezan shoulder injury is a shame
After a number of ridiculous first quarter plays including one where he absolutely lost his defender with a split dodge leading into an off-handed feed to Xander Dickson on the crease and a dodge across the middle of the defense where he took the blunt of multiple big hits before almost scoring, Ricky Miezan left the game with an apparent left shoulder injury. On that second play, he fell hard to the ground as he was shooting, came off the field, and then went straight into the locker room to emerge ten-ish minutes later without his pads on.
After the game, Lars Tiffany characterized the injury as a “tweener” that would require X-rays for them to know the extent of the injury and what Miezan’s status will be moving forward.
If the former Stanford linebacker is out for the season or has to miss substantial time that will be a big loss for this Virginia offense. Yes, there are absolutely a whole host of top-tier individual players left and the depth after the starting six has been coming along nicely. But Miezan was showing signs of truly hitting his stride early in this game, so it would be a shame for him and UVA to miss out on what would assuredly be meaningful production. The dynamic he adds to the offense as such a powerful downhill dodger who can score off the run and be a passer if a defense slides quickly is significant.
Maybe this is getting too far into the hypotheticals, but should he have to miss extended time (with perhaps a broken collarbone) it would at least be very beneficial for him to return in time for the NCAA Tournament starting in early May. That would supposedly be around the eight to nine week time frame that google tells me it takes for an athlete to recover from a surgically fixed collarbone. Best case scenario, he merely dislocated it and could return in the next week or two (ideally in time for March 18th’s game against Maryland). Only time will tell how much this means for Virginia moving forward.
Cade Saustad at full strength is a sight to see
This was a significant part of my analysis from the Ohio State win considering how well Saustad played against Jack Myers, but he followed that stellar outing up with another really solid performance against Richmond last night. Picking up a whopping six ground balls, Saustad continues to be a playmaker for the Wahoos as his health and mobility relative to last season (when he dealt with a knee injury for the majority of the year) is clearly so, so much better.
He may have picked up a pair of penalties for slashing, but Saustad continues to be a menace to opponents both on and off the ball. He’s clearly back to his best (that included limiting the tremendously talented Jared Bernhardt in the 2021 National Championship game), and that is an incredibly consequential development for this defense and this team as a whole.
UVA dominates the ground ball battle
While the +12 faceoff win differential was part of UVA winning the ground ball battle 52-24 (+28), the ‘Hoos didn’t just control the 50-50 balls at the X. They secured 27 of the 39 non-faceoff ground balls (69.2%) as they absolutely dominated possessions and made it practically impossible for Richmond to mount any sort of meaningful comeback. When a team is winning such a high percentage of faceoffs and ground balls while also converting at an insane rate on offense and presenting such a stout front defensively, it’s pretty darn hard to beat them. Just ask any team that played Maryland last season.
UVA out-shot Richmond 51-28 and similarly got more looks on goal with 33 compared to the Spiders’ 18. Against an offense and a defense that are each so good in the settled half-field, losing out on even getting close to matching the number of possessions that Virginia gets in a game is a formula for disaster. And that’s exactly what happened to Richmond last night. The Cavaliers got the revenge they were looking for, simple as that.