In deflating fashion, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team dropped its 17th consecutive regular season game to the Duke Blue Devils. Falling 16-14, the ‘Hoos repeatedly stormed back into the game despite large deficits, but they never tied the game back up after Duke scored first just over two and a half minutes into the game. Following the loss to the #4 Blue Devils, the first-ranked Cavaliers fall to 7-2 on the season and 1-1 in the ACC.
And, as always, we have five takeaways for UVA lacrosse moving forward this season.
It’s a long season
It’s pretty easy to over react to such a stinging, frustrating result. It would be quite simple to point to recent home defeats to Maryland and Duke and declare UVA as a step behind those programs as contenders for May. But the past three games, while including two disappointing losses, have established that the ‘Hoos are among the best in the nation.
The Terps only beat Virginia on an altogether bad day with a collection of miraculous late game plays that resulted in the 14-13 overtime stunner. And, while Duke built a number of big leads throughout the game, UVA came roaring back each and every time with a few bad bounces of the ball arguably once again proving to be the final determining factors.
Throw in a five-goal victory against the #2 Notre Dame Irish and UVA’s +2 scoring margin in arguably the toughest three-game stretch of any schedule this season, and the nits to pick for the Wahoos moving forward are about chasing perfection and a National Championship come May. This team has established itself as a championship contender and that hasn’t changed over recent weeks.
Petey LaSalla continues to perform against the nation’s best
After splitting wins with Maryland’s Luke Wierman two weeks ago, Petey LaSalla straight up beat Duke’s Jake Naso last night, winning 20/34 (58.8%) of the draws. With Naso entering the game third in the country in face-off winning percentage, LaSalla was incredibly effective all game long and kept giving the UVA offense opportunities to get back into the game. Picking up 15 ground balls, LaSalla dominated the clamp and was consistently able to win the ball forward and to himself.
While he hasn’t scored since February 25th against Ohio State as teams have managed to limit his offensive impact and have recovered to him quickly enough in transition, LaSalla has still been able to impact games at a high level. His 58.8% win percentage might be his lowest since his freshman season, but it’s come against some of the best opponents in the country. If he can match and even beat guys like Naso, that sets Virginia up really well to improve against these top-tier opponents.
Wahoos make too many unforced errors
Duke and Virginia finished the game with an equal number of turnovers at 18. Yet, where the difference was made was in UVA’s unforced turnovers. While the Wahoo defense and ride caused 14 of Duke’s 18 (which they absolutely deserve credit for), the Blue Devils only caused seven turnovers, meaning the Cavaliers turned the ball over themselves 14 times in this game. Additionally, UVA was just 16-20 (80%) clearing the ball with errors in the middle of the field gifting Duke extra possessions, which only made it more difficult for the ‘Hoos to claw back even.
Granted, the conditions were far from ideal and playing from behind for nearly the entire game meant that Virginia had to take some risks. But, still, there were too many dropped passes, too many forced looks, and just too much sloppy play to beat a team of the quality of the presumed new #1 team in the country come Monday.
Brennan O’Neil is just too good
Cade Saustad guarded Brennan O’Neil fairly well in this game. Sure, he got beat at times, but O’Neil’s six goal, three assist performance was not an indictment of Saustad. Rather, it was a telltale sign of just how dominant the junior lefty can be at his best. Sometimes you run into an opponent who is too good to stop on a given day, and that day was yesterday for Virginia against O’Neil.
Of course, the Cavaliers will play Duke again in just two weeks’ time, so there will be an opportunity for payback for all involved. But, at the same time, the prospect of having to deal with defending O’Neil is a scary prospect. He’s always been a potentially dominant physical specimen with skills that suited his style of play, but the way he controlled yesterday’s affair was special. Lars Tiffany and UVA’s defense will need different and better answers to limit him some when the Cavaliers travel to Durham.
Bright spots on offense aren’t enough
Duke’s decision to guard Payton Cormier with a short stick was an interesting one. With such a matchup, the fifth year Canadian tallied six goals on 15 shots (40%) as he carried the Virginia offense. Cormier tends to embarrass short stick defenders when they’re tasked with guarding him and Sean Kirwan’s adjustment to running three-man games on the left side with Cormier, Thomas McConvey, and Patrick McIntosh was inspired as it allowed those three to work seamlessly together and to exploit Duke’s midfield defenders who are relatively far less accustomed to guarding such types of screening and re-screening actions.
While he was great in this game, forcing Cormier to be the primary guy to dodge meant that Duke was able to limit the impact of guys like Griffin Schutz (1 assist), McConvey (1 goal), and Ricky Miezan (0 points). Additionally, Duke’s Kenny Brower severely limited Connor Shellenberger (3 assists) as a dodger and forced him to be a complementary player rather than the dangerous initiator he is at his best.
Virginia did get critical contributions from Xander Dickson (4 goals), Peter Garno (2 goals), and Jeff Conner (3 assists). But, especially without effective transition offense, not being able to reliably initiate offense through Shellenberger, Schutz, McConvey, or Miezan severely limited UVA’s scoring options in this game. That will be something to watch moving forward as additional opponents may try similar tactics to defend this incredibly efficient Virginia offense.