When the No. 8 Virginia men’s lacrosse team welcomes powerhouse No. 3 Cornell for a marquee matchup Saturday at Klöckner Stadium, all eyes will be on senior midfielder and captain Chris LaPierre.
LaPierre was once again limited this past week in an overtime loss against No. 18 Syracuse and in a bounce back win against Vermont after spraining his PCL in his right knee in the first preseason practice. He started the season opener before missing the next three games, returning against Vermont in a backup role, but his prolonged recovery is becoming a major issue for the Cavaliers (5-1) and coach Dom Starsia.
“We’re probably going to have to make a decision here within the next couple days,” Starsia said. “We’re about at the midpoint of the season, and I’m going to have to talk to him again before we make a decision. [A redshirt] is possible, his leg is not coming around the way that he hoped it would.”
A USILA Second-Team All-American and All-ACC standout in 2012, LaPierre has yet to score this season and has attempted just three shots. His return was not enough to earn a statement win against the Orange, but his improved play could be crucial as Virginia begins a treacherous stretch against some of the country’s elite teams beginning with the Big Red (4-0) Saturday. Virginia is still looking for its first ranked win of the season.
“We’re about to play a part of the schedule in which we’re playing a top five or six team every weekend,” Starsia said. “We just have to work hard to prepare, and we’re going to have to play our best game in order to come out on top.”
Cornell climbed four spots in the national rankings this past week by notching two more easy wins against Binghamton and Colgate to remain undefeated. The Big Red have lost four straight against the Cavaliers including a 2011 NCAA quarterfinal matchup, but they have remained a strong program since winning their last national title in 1977 and have won 13 of 27 overall games against Virginia.
Virginia got back in the win column after its heartbreaking 9-8 loss to Syracuse, erasing a two goal fourth quarter deficit against unranked Vermont to edge the Catamounts 12-10. Even the narrow win against an unheralded foe is helping restore confidence and momentum heading into Saturday’s showdown.
“I think it’s going to be really, really important for us,” freshman attackman James Pannell said. “We can definitely do it, I think we were a little slow against [Syracuse], a little sloppy, didn’t bury the shots we should’ve, but once we’re on target, we’re crisp. I think we can do well against a team like Cornell.”
Pannell will look to help Virginia avoid its worst six-game start since 2004, but he will also have a more personal connection to Saturday’s game. The matchup against Cornell will be the first time Pannell has faced his older brother, Cornell redshirt senior attackman Rob Pannell, in a game.
“It’s going to be the first time ever that I’ve played against him, so it’s really going to be crazy,” Pannell said. “My parents don’t even know who to root for; they don’t know what to wear to the game. It’s really going to be interesting. I wish him all the best, but not too much.”
The elder Pannell is second in the nation in points and assists per game and was a First-Team All American for Cornell in both 2010 and 2011. In addition, he was named the 2011 USILA Division I Player of the Year and National Attackman of the Year. Pannell is the leading point scorer on a Cornell squad that ranks second in the nation in scoring at 16.33 goals per game.
“I watched Cornell play last weekend, they’re very good,” Starsia said. “I’m happy for the Pannells that they get this moment for themselves. We have the best Pannell though.”
Faceoff is set for 1 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.