No. 8 Cavs face UNC in crucial conference game
Both teams battling for position in ACC, NCAA tournament
The Virginia men’s lacrosse team, ranked No. 8 by the USILA Coaches’ Poll and No. 9 by Inside Lacrosse, travels to Chapel Hill for the final road game of the season Saturday, when they will face off against ACC rival No. 5 North Carolina.
The Cavaliers (8-3, 1-2 ACC) lost last weekend at Maryland, 9-6, leaving the Cavaliers fifth in the ACC standings with only three regular season games to play. Only the top four teams in the six-team conference qualify to play in the ACC Championships.
“Obviously this is a big game for us,” senior midfielder Rob Emery said. “Like Coach [Dom] Starsia always says every week, every game is a big game, but definitely in terms of our ACC record and wanting to make the ACC tournament, is definitely a big one for us.”
This week, Emery was named one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, which honors student athletes who excel on and off the field. Emery ranks No. 9 in Virginia’s all-time scoring list with 70 career goals, and he was named to the All-ACC Academic team last year.
Emery scored one goal in last Sunday’s game against Maryland, where Virginia was held to only nine total second half shots after having a 5-3 lead at halftime.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Emery said. “Early in the first half we were capitalizing on the ground balls and getting up the field. Then the second half rolls around, and Maryland starts making all of the plays that we were making in the first half, which I think contributed to the end result. So we’re getting after it this week and working on ground balls. If there is something that’s going to define our team, it’s going to be effort on the ground.”
The Cavaliers won only 22 ground balls compared to Maryland’s 35. They also lost the faceoff battle 14-5.
“If you’re not going to be a dominant team facing off, you need to be a very efficient team clearing the ball and we weren’t,” Starsia said.
North Carolina (8-2, 1-2 ACC) sits right above Virginia in the ACC standings at No. 4. The Tar Heels also have three games left in the season to finish strong and qualify for the ACC Tournament.
“This is a team that we think we match up well against,” Emery said. “They like to run up and down the field like we do, so it’s definitely going to be a run and gun game. We’re looking forward to that, as opposed to the game we played last week because it was a lot slower and maybe we got out of our tempo.”
The Tar Heels had the second half Virginia was looking for this past weekend. North Carolina scored nine goals to Johns Hopkins’ two in the final 31:30 of last Saturday’s game to beat the Blue Jays after trailing 7-5 at halftime. The Tar Heels won more ground balls in the second half — 14-8 versus 8-19 in the first half — to help secure the win.
“We’ll have our hands full down in Carolina, no question about it,” Starsia said. “They are one of the most talented teams in the country. They’re very different from Maryland, you know they are kind of desperate to control the pace of play, but Carolina will force the play. The ball will be in play a lot, so there will be a lot of opportunities to make plays, and we have to take advantage of it.”
For his efforts against Johns Hopkins, UNC junior attackman Joey Sankey was named ACC Co-Player of the Week. Sankey led the team with a career-high five goals, while also adding two assists for a total of seven points to tie his career high.
The Cavaliers have not had an ACC Player of the Week honor since February, when freshman goalie Matt Barrett was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week on Feb. 18 and sophomore attackman James Pannell was given the Offensive honor the week before.
“We like to think we’re one of those elite teams year in and year out,” Starsia said. “So, we feel a little beat up right now, but we’re 8-3. We’re 3-3 against the top-10 teams in the country. If we can get a couple of these games at the end, we’ll be in great shape. Then, I’d like to think we will benefit from having gone through all of this.”
Faceoff is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Fetzer Field.