The Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team is heading back to Championship Weekend and the NCAA Tournament Final Four after beating the #7 Georgetown Hoyas in the quarterfinals, 17-14. The high-scoring affair was close until midway through the third quarter when UVA strung together a four goal run to enter the fourth stanza up 15-11.
Connor Shellenberger led the way for the ‘Hoos with a whopping six goals and four assists while the team as a whole shot 42.5% (17-40). Xander Dickson had four points with a pair of scores and two assists with Payton Cormier (two goals, one assist), Peter Garno (two goals), and Griffin Schutz (two goals) also hitting the back of the net twice. Virginia’s defense allowed nine first half goals, but held the Hoyas to five in the final 30 minutes, two of which came in the final minutes when the Cavaliers had all but sealed but their fate.
With the win and UVA’s third Final Four in the last four postseasons clinched, we have five takeaways from this game and for the ‘Hoos moving forward.
Connor Shellenberger continues to perform in May
There are only so many ways to describe how well Connor Shellenberger plays in the month of May. His ten points against Georgetown set a career high in the NCAA Tournament with that total and his six goals tying program records for points and goals scored in a tournament game.
In this contest, Shellenberger came out extremely hot with two goals in the first 16 seconds. He tacked on two more before the halfway point of the first quarter with scores in a variety of ways. The redshirt junior made Georgetown’s star defender, Will Bowen, a complete non-factor, consistently finding ways to free his hands and rip. As play progressed, Shellenberger took on more of a distributor role, dishing assists to Peter Garno (twice), Payton Cormier, and Xander Dickson.
Shellenberger’s play in the regular season this year left something to be desired as injuries limited what he could do, particularly as a goal scorer. Before today, he was yet to find his groove as a shooter this season with his 29.2% shooting a career low.
But, now fully healthy, Shellenberger has embraced his role as Mr. May and is playing to the incredibly high standard that his success in the 2021 NCAA Tournament set. The 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) he’s registered in the last two weeks and his 6-8 (75%) shooting in today’s contest are evidence that the Charlottesville native is back to his very best. With the most important weekend of lacrosse approaching, that’s a massive development for Virginia.
UVA’s specialists make the necessary big plays
In postseason lacrosse, the play of the face-off guys and the goalies becomes all that more important with each possession and each shot meaning more and more. While Virginia’s Matthew Nunes and Petey LaSalla didn’t dominate against the Hoyas, they were good enough, making big plays at critical moments.
All of Nunes’ 13 saves against the electric Georgetown offense were quality as he stopped a respectable 48.1% of the 27 shots he faced. Meanwhile, LaSalla registered a goal and an assist (and had another pass to Shellenberger which resulted in a goal), took all 34 face-offs, and won 50% of them.
Neither was perfect in this game, but the challenge the Georgetown face-off specialist James Reilly and the Georgetown offense posed was significant and simply not losing the battle to either of them allowed UVA’s offensive and defensive cores to win this game.
Virginia’s defense adjusts to stymie Georgetown late
Throughout the first half and the early third quarter, the Wahoo defense was consistently losing individual matchups and similarly getting burned on the backside. Brian Minicus scored four goals off the dodge, all of which came against one of UVA’s two best cover defenders, Cole Kastner or Cade Saustad. The ball movement from the Hoyas’ offense and the passing from the offensive midfielders in particular left the Cavaliers scrambling.
But, eventually, Kastner settled into the adjusted matchup with Minicus, UVA handled Bundy by guarding him with a pole rather than a short-stick, and the Hoyas struggled to get quality looks against Nunes down the stretch.
Virginia’s short-stick defensive midfielders deserve credit for handling their assignments in the second half. Grayson Sallade, Noah Chizmar, Evan Zinn, and Jeff Conner limited the dangerous depth pieces that Georgetown has while also providing physical disruption as help defenders in two-man games and off dodges.
There will be room for improvement for the defense moving forward, especially with off-ball communication and decision-making. But the way the UVA bounced back in the second half and cooled the Hoyas down indicates that this defense can hang with the highest flying offenses in the country on the biggest stages.
The Cavaliers successfully limit Tucker Dordevic
Of course, arguably the most impressive element of Virginia’s defensive performance today was how the team and Cade Saustad specifically held Tucker Dordevic in check. Listed among the key matchups heading into the game, Dordevic had scored four or more goals in eight straight games, averaging five goals and 0.9 assists per contest over that stretch.
Against UVA, however, the Tewaaraton finalist scored a mere two goals on eight shots with zero assists. The Cavaliers smartly slid quickly to the ball-dominant attackman, forcing him to either move the ball elsewhere or deal with beating two defenders. And, although Kastner started the game guarding Dordevic, the fairly quick decision to swap Saustad onto Dordevic and Kastner onto Minicus worked out very well. Saustad’s physicality and strength matched Dordevic’s power dodges while Kastner’s superior quickness and length matched up better against Minicus’ quick feet.
Stopping Dordevic was the top priority for UVA’s defense in this game. Keeping him quiet was huge for the Cavaliers in this game and the team’s success against an elite attackman projects well considering the potential upcoming matchups against players of similar quality including Notre Dame’s Kavanagh brothers and Duke’s Brennan O’Neil.
Offensive production from unlikely individuals proves critical
Goals from unlikely sources has been a theme for UVA’s offense throughout this season. Short-stick defensive midfielders Zinn, Chizmar, and Sallade all provide a nice offensive punch while LaSalla is well-renowned for his scoring acumen. Fortunately, that came into play against the Hoyas with LaSalla’s goal and assist and Chizmar’s quick stick score on the back pipe adding up to be the difference in this game.
Beyond the specialists making an impact on offense, Virginia’s depth got involved as well. Garno’s two goals and Patrick McIntosh’s one helped make up for the combined 4-17 shooting from the typically automatic trio of Cormier, DIckson, and Thomas McConvey.
┏━━━━━━━━━━┓— Virginia Men's Lacrosse (@UVAMensLax) May 20, 2023
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With Championship Weekend approaching and the semifinal and final taking place within a three day span, getting offensive production from guys down the depth chart and across the lineup is especially important. As such, the six goals scored or assisted on by such players in this game is encouraging moving forward.