After beating the Richmond Spiders this past Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team has advanced to the national quarterfinals and will be facing off against the #7 seed Georgetown Hoyas in a rematch of the 2021 quarterfinals when the Wahoos steamrolled past the Hoyas en route to the program’s seventh NCAA Championship. While Virginia still has a chunk of its core from that 2021 squad, Georgetown is a far different team than two years ago.
With Saturday’s contest approaching, we’re taking a look at the three most critical matchups between the Hoyas and the ‘Hoos which will contribute to determining the final result.
Petey LaSalla vs James Reilly
As it always is, the battle at the face-off dot will be undoubtedly paramount in this quarterfinal. In Reilly and LaSalla, this game will feature two of the most experienced face-off specialists in the country. They were slated to go head to head for 60 minutes back in 2021, but an injury early in the game meant that Reilly only took two draws as LaSalla won 15 of the 19 face-offs that day.
Reilly has been dinged up of late and has struggled some as a result. He won just 6/14 draws against Denver in the Big East Championship and slightly edged out an average Yale Bulldogs face-off unit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, winning 15/29.
The Georgetown specialist is known best for being effective with counters beyond simply winning the clamp. LaSalla has been effective this season at preventing counters from disrupting him, being more willing to win the ball backwards rather than forcing it forwards to try to push in transition.
If he can do that effectively against Reilly, capitalize on a few transition opportunities, and avoid the funks that can sometimes plague him against quality opponents, Georgetown will have a hard time winning this game. The Hoyas are absolutely talented, but LaSalla is specifically known for winning in the biggest moments. With that in mind and the impact he can have beyond the draw, UVA appears to have the advantage in this matchup heading into tomorrow’s game.
Connor Shellenberger vs Will Bowen
Arguably the two best players on the field, Shellenberger and Bowen should put on a show tomorrow afternoon. Bowen, who was the seventh overall pick in last week’s PLL Draft, is the reigning national defensive player of the year and presents a physical challenge unlike any other in the country. The 6’3” 220 pound senior is a powerful righty who is both extremely capable on the ball and off of it.
In the presumed matchup with Shellenberger, Bowen will be responsible for slowing down the guy who jumpstarts UVA’s high-powered offense and scored six goals against the Hoyas in the 2021 quarterfinal. The Virginia attackman is quicker and more explosive than Bowen and will consequently hope to create separation from Bowen without allowing his defender to push him off his line.
There clearly are other guys who can initiate the Wahoos’ offense and plenty of players who can hit the back of the net. But UVA is at its absolute best when Shellenberger is wheeling and dealing. Bowen is one of the toughest defenders in the nation and beating him won’t be easy.
Yet Shellenberger’s effectiveness in the two-man game behind the goal, the change of speed he can utilize more now that he’s fully healthy, and the chemistry he has with his finishers Payton Cormier and Xander Dickson mean that there’s plenty that the redshirt junior has in his bag to beat Bowen.
Cade Saustad/Cole Kastner vs Tucker Dordevic
The dangerous scorer and Tewaaraton finalist Tucker Dordevic will be the top priority for Lars Tiffany’s defense tomorrow. Fortunately, the team has plenty of experience against the Syracuse transfer and knows how to defend him effectively.
This season, he’s averaging 4.75 points per game with a whopping 63 goals in 16 games. But in two games against the Cavaliers in 2022, Dordevic was held to four goals and zero assists. In those outings, Virginia’s defense prioritized sliding to Dordevic quickly and forcing him to get the ball out of his stick.
Dordevic is a physical, talented dodger who is a high volume shooter that can really rip it with either hand. But where his game is slightly lacking is as a feeder and a creator for others.
In 2022, Cole Kastner was the primary defender of Dordevic and utilized his 6’7” length to disrupt the 6’0” attackman. But, with how well Cade Saustad has performed this season now that’s been fully healthy, both him and Kastner provide a capable option for defending the Hoyas’ best offensive player. Kastner brings more of a playmaking ability with caused turnovers whereas Saustad is stronger when defending in close.
Whichever of the two defend Bowen individually should have significant help from the rest of the defense as Tiffany looks to make Dordevic play as a feeder. Of course, Georgetown does have dangerous players around Dordevic with players including Brian Minicus, Graham Bundy, Jacob Kelly, and Nicky Solomon. Minicus in particular is dangerous as a finisher on attack who needs to be accounted for while Dordevic, Bundy, and Solomon are initiating.
But, if the ‘Hoos can limit Dordevic — who is averaging seven points per game in Georgetown’s last three — and his impact as an individual scorer, the task of slowing the Hoyas down becomes far easier. Using one of Saustad or Kastner to defend him and then sending quick help when and if he gets a step should go a long way towards doing just that.