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Five takeaways from #3 UVA lacrosse’s 19-11 win over #8 Michigan

Analyzing a dominant victory against a quality opponent which featured plenty of eye-popping performances.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics

In their 2024 season opener, the Virginia Cavaliers handled business against the #11 Michigan Wolverines with a dominant 19-11 victory.

Payton Cormier (five goals, one assist), McCabe Millon (five goals), Jack Boyden (two goals, three assists), Joey Terenzi (one goal, two assists), and Connor Shellenberger (two goals) all combined for an offensive onslaught. Meanwhile, Matthew Nunes and the close defense were dominant and kept Michigan’s offense at bay for the vast majority of the game.

With the win, we have five takeaways.

The “pretty boys” prevail

In an Inside Lacrosse story published on Thursday, Michigan head coach Kevin Conry was quoted saying that “we play in the best conference in the country,” and adding that “it’s not the pretty-boy conference. It’s full of 6-foot-4 gorillas ready to rip your face off.”

Granted, that quote was from an interview in mid-January, and Conry clarified after the game to say he never meant it as a shot at any individual team or conference.

Nevertheless, it was all the bulletin board material that the Wahoos needed for this one. A 5-1 first quarter lead became a 10-3 halftime margin, which turned into a 17-8 score after three quarters before Lars Tiffany cleared the bench just over halfway though the fourth stanza.

Antics aside, this game has to be a huge confidence boost for a team that is unproven. Despite the blue chip talent and the all-time greats at certain spots, there were a whole host of questions regarding whether the ‘Hoos could fill all the holes left by the 18 players who left the team last spring. Through 60 minutes of lacrosse, many of those questions already have answers.

McCabe Millon is already a star

With five goals on eight shots, freshman McCabe Millon put on an absolute show in his debut with highlight score after highlight score.

Whether it was by using a Griffin Schutz pick near GLE and then gripping and ripping, beating his man underneath and diving across the crease to beat the Michigan 10-man ride, or diving for the end-line to gain possession and then finding Noah Chizmar who fed Will Cory for a goal, Millon made plays all over the field.

Millon has always been a tantalizing talent and a prodigious prospect, but this proved that he’s already a scintillating star within the Wahoo offense. Shellenberger remains the straw that stirs the drink. But Millon looks more than capable of being the “second quarterback” alongside the veteran like Shellenberger once was to Matt Moore and that Moore was to Michael Kraus.

Millon’s explosion out of dodges is particularly impressive and is eerily similar to Shellenberger. He’s already elite at reading how defenses approach the pick game, and time after time he exploited the Wolverines for their mistakes. Bottom line, he has the mental and physical tools to be an extremely special player, and this was only the beginning.

Matthew Nunes has made the jump

Since becoming the starting goalie as a freshman, Matt Nunes has always been a solid keeper who had an especially solid back half of the 2023 season. In game one of 2024, though, he looked entirely in control.

The final numbers don’t look as dominant as it looked (13 saves on 23 shots on goal for a 56.5% save rate). Nunes’ eight first half saves relative to only three goals allowed set the tone for the Virginia defense from the jump and allowed the Cavaliers to stretch their lead to seven after 30 minutes. That buffer meant that, even when Michigan did mount its meager run at a comeback with a two goal “run” midway through the third quarter, the game was all but sealed with the offensive firepower pouring it on the overpowered Wolverine defense.

Nunes wasn’t only seeing the ball well; he was poised in and out of the cage. He was flawless in the clearing game, even carrying into the offensive half at one point, and made a number of smart plays by stepping out of the cage to either intercept Michigan passes or close off passing lanes. He also was credited with an assist for this dot of a full-field pass to McCabe Millon.

With a relatively new defense in front of him, Nunes’ presence now as an upperclassman keeper with plenty of experience is going to be critical for the ‘Hoos all season long. So far, so very good for the Texas native.

The velociraptors are back

Not that they really went anywhere, but whew buddy this Virginia defense looks back to prime form in game one. Even with John Schroter and George Fulton being new starters at close, they both surpassed expectations. Schroter (three caused turnovers, five ground balls) in particular was an absolute menace with Fulton adding two caused turnovers and four GBs of his own. As a team, UVA forced a whopping 13 Michigan turnovers and were physically dominant in the process.

Virginia’s starting four long poles stand 6’7”, 6,6” 6’5”, and (a measly) 6’3”. The fifth and sixth poles are 6’2” and 6’1”. It’s (unofficially) the biggest defense in college lacrosse, and is incredibly reminiscent of UVA’s 2021 defense which overwhelmed Georgetown in the NCAA quarterfinals to the point where the Hoyas head coach remarked that the Wahoo defense resembled Jurassic Park.

How the defensive personnel would fare was perhaps the biggest unknown for this roster beyond the faceoff position. After one game against the 2023 Big-10 Champs, Tiffany’s defense has passed all tests with flying colors.

Newcomers are a major success

Along with Millon, Schroter, and Fulton, transfers Chase Yager, Anthony Ghobriel, Thomas Colucci, and Jack Boyden and redshirt freshmen Joey Terenzi and Ryan Colsey all had really good Virginia debuts.

Yager and Terenzi are studs at short stick defensive midfield and complete an awesome trio with Noah Chizmar. Terenzi is also a major threat in transition and on faceoff wings — scoring a goal, dishing two assists, and picking up a pair of ground balls — and fits perfectly into the program’s Ryan Conrad role.

At faceoff, Ghobriel (15/23) and Colucci (6/8) combined to go 67.7% against Michigan and Justin Wietfeldt (8/24) who was fourth in the country in individual faceoff win percentage in 2023. That is a HUGE victory for the ‘Hoos at what was perceived as a position of weakness particularly because presumed starter Gable Braun was out with injury.

Offensively, Tufts transfer Jack Boyden put up five points with a pair of highlight goals and some gorgeous assists that fully displayed his deep bag of tricks that will prove critical for the Wahoo offense this season.

And, lastly, Colsey filled in well for the injured Patrick McIntosh on the first midfield line and found the back of the net for his first career goal off a gorgeously designed ATO from Kevin Cassese.

All in all, this collection of nine debutants played to the incredibly high program standard which puts Virginia in a really nice spot up and down the roster. It might be game one, but all signs point to the 2024 Cavaliers maintaining the program’s status among the best in college lacrosse.