The No. 17 Virginia men’s lacrosse team mounted a furious comeback in the final quarter of Saturday’s matchup against No. 2 Maryland, but the Cavaliers’ upset bid ultimately fell short as the team dropped its ACC-opener and fourth straight in front of 5,225 at sunny Klöckner Stadium.
The game looked all but decided when Virginia coach Dom Starsia called timeout down 9-5 with 1:57 to play. Out of the timeout, however, sophomore defenseman Greg Danseglio saved an open-goal shot from senior midfielder Kevin Cooper. Danseglio then hit sophomore midfielder Greg Coholan in transition, who sprinted down the right alley and blew a shot on the run past junior goaltender Niko Amato at the 1:35 mark.
Klöckner Stadium erupted when junior defenseman Scott McWilliams grabbed the ground ball off the ensuing faceoff and dished to junior attackman Nick O’Reilly on the fast break, who then buried a shot in the top right corner of the goal. The entire stadium was on edge when sophomore midfielder Ryan Tucker beat senior midfielder Landon Carr down the right alley and unleashed a shot, but Amato made an incredible kick-save and the ball was scooped up by the Terrapins (7-1, 2-1 ACC), who were able to run the remaining 0:47 seconds off the clock and secure the win.
“Niko played a great game,” O’Reilly said. “We could’ve been a little more selective on our shots or shot a little bit better, but I give a lot of credit to Niko because he’s a really good goalie and he played phenomenal today.”
Maryland took a decided edge early in the game. Junior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk received the ball immediately after substituting into the game and wasted no time, taking two steps inside the restraining line and besting sophomore goaltender Rhody Heller 35 seconds into the game. Shortly after, Carr picked up a Virginia turnover and found senior longstick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt in transition, who wound up and fired past Heller to take a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
“We talk about the ebb and flow of the game,” Starsia said. “So the fact that we were down 2-0 shouldn’t have been discouraging. I thought we had a lot of shots early in the game, we just weren’t getting one in the goal … We kind of have to break through offensively.”
Sophomore attackman Jay Carlson added one more for the Terrapins in the first before the Cavaliers finally got on the board. Virginia broke through when O’Reilly fed Tucker at the restraining line, who then beat Amato with a high-to-high rip on a man-up possession that was set up by a Carlson tripping penalty.
Cooper was able to shake Tucker with a fake pass and then put the ball in the net for the first goal of the second quarter at 7:57. After a Bernhardt goal four minutes later brought the score to 5-1 four minutes later, Cockerton split under his man and finished on the crease to cut the deficit to three goals entering halftime.
“We came out today and we were fired up,” O’Reilly said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t ready to play, they just got a few goals early on us. If we could eliminate that and match up with them right away … we’d be in a much better position.”
The O’Reilly-to-Tucker connection quickly struck again for the Cavaliers coming out of the break, as Tucker slipped down to the crease and handled O’Reilly’s feed from behind the net, finishing inside the far post. But senior midfielder John Haus would score two in a row for Maryland to push the lead back to four goals with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Senior midfielder Matt White fed freshman attackman James Pannell on the crease, who finished an impressive underhanded shot with his back to the goal to make the score 7-4 with 31 seconds left in the quarter. But Carlson would one-up Pannell with six seconds left, jumping to catch a high pass from Chanenchuk and then slamming home a behind-the-back goal with his back also to the net, all while in midair. Though the Cavaliers would score two more to Maryland’s one, the deficit proved too large to overcome.
“A team that’s a little bit younger oftentimes tends to stand back a little bit early to see how things go, and then they decide that they’re ready to make a push,” Starsia said. “We don’t have that time to give away. But there’s a lot to be proud of here in this effort today. This team, if it continues to work hard and improve, still has a chance to do some damage.”
Now sitting at 5-5 (0-1 ACC), Virginia must win at least two of its remaining four games to be eligible for NCAA Tournament consideration. The team is trying to avoid becoming only the second Virginia squad in Starsia’s 21-year tenure to miss the postseason tournament.
“It’s been rough, it’s very uncharacteristic for us, and we’re not used to it,” McWilliams said. “We know that we can get these wins, we just need to eliminate those little mistakes and we’d be right there.”