ACC Tournament brings men’s lacrosse juggernauts to Charlottesville

A look at the loaded ACC tournament as four of the nation’s best teams converge on Charlottesville this weekend

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Sophomore midfielder Dox Aitken will look to lead the young Cavaliers to their first title in the Lars Tiffany era.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

This year, the men’s lacrosse ACC Tournament returns to Charlottesville’s Klöckner Stadium for the first time in six years.

Virginia is one of four teams participating in the tournament, set to begin Friday night with semifinal matchups. Virginia, the No. 4 seed, will play No. 1 seed Syracuse at 8:30 p.m. The Cavaliers’ contest is preceded by No. 2 seed Duke against No. 3 seed Notre Dame, which begins at 6 p.m. The winners of each semifinal round will meet Sunday at noon to determine the 2018 ACC champion. 

Historically one of the best lacrosse conferences, the ACC has again produced four stellar teams that will clash this weekend at Klöckner Stadium.

Here’s a look at the four teams:

No. 1 seed Syracuse:

The Orange (7-5, 4-0 ACC) — currently ranked No. 12 in the nation — have been inconsistent this year, having great wins but also poor losses. Syracuse will need to play up to their great potential to win the ACC Championship.

Syracuse, a historical lacrosse program, has won two ACC championship titles since joining the conference in 2014. The Orange will look to continue their conference dominance this weekend.

The Orange play with an up-tempo style that was most successful in their win over Duke, 15-14. Senior midfielder Brendan Bomberry is their best inside shooter, and has filled up the stat sheet along with sophomore attackman Stephen Rehfuss and junior attackman Nate Solomon.

Player to watch: Senior midfielder Brendan Bomberry (21 goals, 6 assists)

No. 2 seed Duke:

The Blue Devils (12-2, 3-1 ACC), currently ranked No. 2 in the nation, are perhaps the best team in lacrosse this season, with only two narrow losses on the year. They are the favorites going into the tournament, but the path won’t be easy.

Duke has won eight ACC Championship titles, but hasn’t won one in six years — a drought it will seek to end in Charlottesville with an experienced, talented team.

The Blue Devils have a deadly attack led by senior attackman Justin Guterding, one of the nation’s best players. Guterding leads the nation with 3.50 goals per game, and also is a prolific passer. Guterding is not alone, however. Duke has a stellar defense that is great in transition — it is one of the top five scoring defenses in the nation — in addition to solid goalkeeping play.

Duke has dominated most competition this year, but the loss to Syracuse is glaring. A rematch between the Orange and Blue Devils would make for a fascinating championship.

Player to watch: Senior attackman Justin Guterding  (49 goals, 36 assists)

No. 3 seed Notre Dame:

The Fighting Irish (6-5, 1-3 ACC), currently ranked No. 18 in the nation, have struggled this season after being runners-up in the ACC Tournament last year.

Notre Dame has won one ACC Championship title, after moving to the ACC from the Big East in 2014. The Irish come into the tournament as heavy underdogs after losing to North Carolina last weekend, but still have a solid team.

Anchored on defense by senior defenseman John Sexton, the Irish’s core is their solid backline. Sexton’s tenacity in picking up ground balls and forcing turnovers sets the spark for Notre Dame’s defense. Offensively, the Irish are led by sophomore midfielder Bryan Costabile and junior Ryder Garnsey.

Player to watch: Senior defenseman John Sexton (three goals, one assist)

No. 4 seed Virginia:

The Cavaliers (10-4, 1-3 ACC), currently ranked No. 13 in the nation, have improved significantly from last season and will look for their first title in the Lars Tiffany era.

Virginia has won six ACC Championship titles, and has a revitalized program that will certainly contend this weekend, particularly given the Cavaliers home field advantage.

The Cavaliers have terrorized opponents with their myriad offensive threats and ability to keep momentum going through possession. Sophomore attackman Michael Kraus leads the charge in Virginia’s young attack, along with imposing sophomore midfielder Dox Aitken. Freshman attackman Ian Laviano and senior attackman Mike D’Amario have also been explosive on the offensive end.

Virginia has consistently defeated inferior opponents, but has struggled with those at the top, especially in conference play. While the Cavaliers picked up their first conference win in four years against North Carolina, it was their only conference win of the season. The Cavaliers will need their defense to step up to make a run at the ACC title.

Player to watch: Sophomore attackman Michael Kraus (38 goals, 33 assists)

Virginia vs. Syracuse:

Virginia is set to faceoff against Syracuse Friday night at 8:30 p.m. in the second semifinal battle of the night.

The rivalry between the Cavaliers and Orange has been epic, with seven of the last 11 contests being decided by one goal.

“Syracuse is historically such a great team, and they’re going to play their best against us and we’re going to play our best against them,” senior defenseman Scott Hooper said. It’s always been such a close game, and we really embrace that.”

The Cavaliers met the Orange earlier in the season, a contest they narrowly lost, 12-1 —, a game that saw Virginia lose its captain, junior midfielder Ryan Conrad, to injury.

“Having one of our key players and a captain go down early in that game stunned us a little bit, and since then we’ve evolved,” Hooper said. “We’ve learned how to play without Ryan Conrad.”

Friday night’s matchup will display two high-powered offensive juggernauts, under the lights of Klöckner Stadium. Virginia seeks its first win against Syracuse since 2014.

“We haven’t beaten them in a long time. It’s two teams desperate for a win,” Coach Lars Tiffany said.

Tune in at 8:30 p.m. to watch a classic college lacrosse rivalry of the highest stakes.

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