Staying undefeated on the still young season, the #1 Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team advanced to 5-0 with an 18-13 win over the #10 Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Controlling the game early, Virginia got out to a 6-0 lead after 15:44 of game play and then maintained its lead despite some feistiness from the Blue Jays as the game progressed. With UVA’s Doyle Smith Cup victory, we’ve got five takeaways for the ‘Hoos.
Virginia maintains its penchant for hot starts
In three of their five games this year, the Wahoos have jumped out to 6-0 or bigger leads (9-0 vs Harvard, 8-0 vs Richmond) and made life miserable for opponents especially with Petey LaSalla at the faceoff dot. Although Johns Hopkins fought back valiantly and made the game far more competitive than any of UVA’s first four opponents, that 6-0 early advantage put Virginia in the driver’s seat as the deficit never got within three goals.
The ability and proclivity to jump on opponents right out of the gate is valuable. But the larger point is just how quickly the Wahoo offense can flip a switch and go on a run to win the game over a five minute stretch of play. A defensive stop and four consecutive LaSalla faceoff wins can end a game against teams that can’t match the firepower of Virginia’s offense, something few if any offenses around the country can.
Griffin Schutz is showing signs of a breakout sophomore season
While the Virginia offense has been hitting on practically all cylinders throughout the first four plus weeks of the season, Griffin Schutz’s production had been respectable for a first line midfielder on one of the best offenses in the country, but nothing astronomical. Well, against Johns Hopkins, he had a performance indicative of a breakout sophomore season. With four goals and two assists, Schutz was incredible out of the midfield as he harnessed the deadly combination of his size, strength, speed, and skill to great effect.
After the game, both Schutz and Lars Tiffany credited him playing midfield (rather than at attack as he did for much of the offseason) and building confidence as the biggest contributing factors in the former top-ranked player in the 2021 class getting more comfortable in his second season. Such a step forward for him is a massive development for this offense and this team. Schutz becoming a serious dodging threat out of the box changes the dynamic of the Virginia offense and realistically changes its ceiling.
UVA offense gets it done despite being short-handed
While the news that Ricky Miezan is just day-to-day with an upper body injury after he hurt himself against Richmond on Saturday is good, his absence for this game along with Payton Cormier’s left the UVA offense short-handed. Notably, Cormier’s was due to a lower body injury that has him day to day as well; he was in a boot and using crutches on the sideline.
Fortunately, junior Patrick McIntosh filled in well for Cormier at attack with six (6!) goals after scoring three and adding two assists against Richmond three days ago. Xander Dickson remained incredibly efficient as a scorer (six goals on eight shots), continuing to add a bit more initiation to his game while the aforementioned Schutz carried the Wahoos especially early.
The emergence of McIntosh in particular is special. Schutz and Dickson have both made clear and notable improvements since last season, but they were also both starters last year. Meanwhile, McIntosh entered this season with just 14 career points and had just 16 career tallies before this weekend. In UVA’s two games in the last four days, McIntosh notched 11 points with nine goals and two helpers, finding the back of the net in a variety of ways.
That depth of scoring and the fact that UVA can get 16 combined goals from Schutz, Dickson, and McIntosh while Cormier is out and Shellenberger and McConvey are relatively quiet is a feather in the hat for the depth of this offense and for offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan. This is going to be a hard offense for any defenses to stop, and that’s only becoming more and more evident with each game.
Petey LaSalla is a cheat code
It’s difficult to add much to the Petey LaSalla discourse on a week-to-week basis considering how he consistently finds ways to defy the traditional role of a FOGO. In this game, he most heavily impacted the result at the X, winning 22-33 (66.6%) of his draws.
He also had a hockey assist in the second quarter when he ridiculously inverted behind the goal, used a Connor Shellenberger screen, drove upfield lefty, drew a slide, and moved the ball up to Thomas McConvey at the top of the offense who found a wide open Xander Dickson on the crease. The mere fact that LaSalla is a schemed-up part of the UVA offense is something else. In modern lacrosse there’s always been talk of certain great FOGOs who can score off the initial faceoff by winning it forward as more than just “Faceoff, Get Off” guys. But LaSalla is the true exception to the rule.
Often a bit overshadowed by that offensive skill-set, LaSalla’s talent at the X was both incredibly evident and valuable tonight against the Blue Jays. His 11 ground balls indicate how good he is at winning the ball to himself, but also at securing the ball out of a scrum even when he doesn’t win the ball cleanly at the dot.
Virginia defense plays well enough
While this game wasn’t as dominant a showing as UVA’s first four wins, it was against perhaps the most dangerous opponent yet. Johns Hopkins has a couple of good wins under its belt and didn’t go away when the Wahoos pulled ahead early. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cavaliers were good enough. Five extra man opportunities for Hopkins generated three goals for the Blue Jays who also did well at creating good shots in transition.
In terms of how the defense performed, UVA rarely lost an individual matchup outright. The close defensemen continue to anchor the defense while the short stick defensive midfielders were similarly solid once again. While Johns Hopkins’ 13 goals wouldn’t necessarily imply it, Tiffany said after the game that he felt he got out-coached by the Blue Jay staff. To some degree, that’s just Tiffany being hard on himself and impressively holding himself to as high a standard as he holds his players. But Hopkins definitely did manage to scheme up some decent step down looks and kept things competitive after a scoreless first quarter.
Then, although Matt Nunes made a number of big saves late in the game to prevent a Hopkins comeback, he did struggle to find a rhythm for most of the game (nine saves, 13 goals allowed, 40.9% save rate) and definitely missed a couple saves he could and should have had. Some of that was likely unfortunately due to the situation where he didn’t face many shots for much of the first half and was left to stand in the cold for an extended period of time. Finding that rhythm from the jump is critical for goalies, so most of Nunes’ “struggles” can be excused. Additionally, his five fourth quarter saves were paramount for UVA to close out the win and indicate that, when it matters most, Virginia’s keeper comes to the fore.