Men’s lacrosse takes ACC-opener against Orange, 17-12
Pannell scores career-high seven goals in first-ever conference matchup against Syracuse
On a huge night for sports in Charlottesville, the fourth-ranked Virginia men’s lacrosse team followed the men’s basketball team victory by downing No. 8 Syracuse in its ACC opener, 17-12.
The Cavaliers (6-0, 1-0 ACC) dominated all facets of the game, at least doubling the Orange in ground balls won, caused turnovers and faceoffs won. Virginia also posted nearly the same number of shots on goal as the Orange did total shots, putting up 31 on target to Syracuse’s 33 total.
“This was the best we’ve played all year,” coach Dom Starsia said. “This was two good teams playing hard and this was our most complete effort of the season.”
The Cavaliers are off to a significantly better start than they were last season. Virginia began the season ranked sixth in the ACC and seventh in the country, but an overtime win against a strong Loyola team and several recent dominating performances have elevated Virginia to the No. 4 ranking in the nation.
Conversely, the Orange (2-2, 0-2 ACC) entered Klöckner Stadium seeking to rebound from a crushing 16-8 loss against seventh-ranked Maryland in their first-ever ACC game a week ago.
This motivation manifested itself early in the game, as the Orange quickly jumped out to a three-goal advantage in the first quarter. Syracuse senior midfielder Chris Daddio won two of the first three faceoffs to help spark the Orange run. Virginia junior midfielder Mick Parks, however, won the next five straight to swing momentum in the Cavaliers’ favor.
“We’ve been behind these guys by seven or eight in the past, so I wasn’t that concerned,” Starsia said. “Part of me was thinking I hope we get one tonight, but other than that I felt like we would be able to climb back in it.”
This period of dominance at the faceoff X lead to an offensive outpouring for Virginia, as the team netted six unanswered goals, led by a hat trick from sophomore attackman James Pannell. The sophomore capped the Cavalier run by taking the ball from behind the cage, quickly turning and rifling home a no-angle shot into the opposite top corner.
“We had a man down, and wanted to run a play down the wing,” Pannell said. “[Senior midfielder] Rob [Emery] pulled my guy up, and we run it in practice all the time, so I just followed him and turned around and shot. It was just how we drew it up.”
The Orange were finally able to stop the bleeding with eight minutes to go in the first half, after being awarded back-to-back extra-man opportunities that put Virginia a man down for nearly a minute and a half.
The squads traded blows for the remainder of the half, but Virginia maintained its two-goal lead going into the break. A hard shot from just inside the restraining box by Emery beat Syracuse junior goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara with eight seconds to play in the second quarter.
Parks continued his dominance in the faceoff circle to give Virginia several early opportunities in the third quarter. Despite loose defense from the Orange, however, the Cavaliers opted for low-percentage shots that were easily foiled by Lamolinara. These wasted opportunities eventually began to haunt Virginia, as Syracuse drew even at 9-9 with just less than eight minutes remaining in the quarter.
With momentum clearly in Syracuse’s favor, Starsia called a timeout to refocus his squad. The strategy immediately paid dividends, as the Cavaliers won the ensuing faceoff and brilliantly executed a passing play engineered by Pannell that had the Orange defense scrambling. Senior attackman Mark Cockerton took the feed from sophomore attackman Owen Van Arsdale and broke the tie.
Virginia doubled its lead less than 30 seconds later when senior defenseman Scott McWilliams took the ball nearly coast-to-coast and walked deep into the restraining box to put away his first of the season.
“The wings did a great job of getting the ball up the deck,” McWilliams said. “A main focus we had was getting one-time on the ground balls, and I think our defensemen improved on that. We just need to focus on getting better and better.”
From there, the floodgates opened; the Cavaliers scored two more unanswered goals to extend their lead to four with three minutes to play in the third quarter.
Virginia’s defense came to life as well during this run, consistently out-battling the Orange attack for ground balls and delivering crushing body checks to the opponents — the loudest roar of the night from the 5,102 fans packed inside Klöckner came when senior midfielder Pat Harbeson viciously decleated an unsuspecting Syracuse player.
The Cavaliers got in foul trouble late in the third quarter for delay of game, affording Syracuse a man-up opportunity. However, McWilliams and company kept their slides sharp and did not allow a shot.
Virginia immediately converted this momentum into a power-play of their own by drawing a personal foul penalty on a ground ball. Despite a strong effort from the Syracuse defense, the Cavaliers would not be denied. Pannell put home his sixth goal of the evening on a rocket that beat Lamolinara high on the stick side.
With seven minutes remaining in the contest, Syracuse appeared poised to make a comeback run and pulled within two goals. But the Cavaliers quickly responded to stretch their lead back to four off of goals by freshman midfielder Zed Williams and Pannell, who finished with a career-high seven goals. Freshman goalkeeper Matt Barrett sealed the game with a series of late saves.
“[Pannell] never was at full strength last year,” Starsia said. “He got hurt on the first day of practice and just was never ready. We aren’t expecting this type of performance every night, but he is a top player at this level and he certainly seized the opportunity to show that tonight.”
The Cavaliers return to action March 8 when they travel to Ithaca, NY to take on No. 16 Cornell.