Coming off a dramatic double overtime win, the No. 11 Virginia men’s lacrosse team travels to Philadelphia Saturday to take on the Drexel Dragons in their home opener, in what is sure to be a high-scoring contest.
Despite having a great start to the season with a resilient upset victory against Loyola, Virginia (1-0) was certainly not perfect in their home opener. The Cavaliers’ first half performance was shaky, with a porous defense and an impotent offense.
However, Virginia posted a barrage of goals to open the second half, going on a 7-0 run that would be critical in overcoming a five-goal deficit. While Virginia — with its athletic attackers and run-and-gun style — will certainly be able to come up with these scoring bursts, they cannot rely on them.
This is what Coach Lars Tiffany stressed about watching the film after an inspiring performance. Though the offense showed tremendous firepower, he wanted his team to have the humility to focus on the many flaws in their victorious outing.
“The film is always a great equalizer,” Tiffany said. “After a win, you see a lot of things you did wrong, which you forget after the euphoria of winning a close game. We need to clean up a lot of things… Loyola exposed a lot of things we’ve gotta do better.”
Tiffany was particularly focused on defensive problems, which his team struggled tremendously with last year.
“We have to play better on-ball defense, denying the initial dodge,” Tiffany said. “We’ve got a lot to do to improve the base six v. six man-to-man.”
Tiffany did, however, highlight the positive individual defensive performance from freshman midfielder John Fox, who he praised for his leadership and his talent on the field.
“He made some mistakes in the first quarter, but then he really settled in,” Tiffany said of Fox. “He’s shown a composure and voice that I’m not very adapted to from a first-year.”
Certainly, the Cavaliers plethora of young talent stepped up in their first game. In addition to the stellar play from Fox, freshman attacker Ian Laviano was outstanding, scoring five goals and earning ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance Saturday.
Drexel promises a different challenge for this Virginia team. The teams have played each other 17 times overall, with the Cavaliers coming out on top in all but one of those games — including victories in all contests played in Philadelphia.
Drexel will not be an easy matchup for Virginia, despite this history. The Dragons lost to the Cavaliers by one goal every time they played from 2012 to 2014. Last year’s game at Klöckner Stadium was a tough battle which the Cavaliers won 18-14, in which senior attacker Mike D’Amario led the way with seven goals.
Tiffany noted how Drexel’s strengths pose a challenge for Virginia’s marked weakness last year — namely, six-on-six play.
“I think they’re a smart team,” Tiffany said of the Dragons. “They’ve got a really good 6v6 technical offense and team defense… The challenge for us from year one to year two is to get better at 6v6. We can run-and-gun, and we showed that on Saturday against Loyola. But can we play a more technical team?”
To find success against the Dragons, the Cavaliers will have to be able to adjust their run-and-gun style at times to adapt to Drexel’s more patient offense. The Dragons return talented sophomore attacker Reid Bowering, who tallied 39 points in an excellent freshman campaign. Bowering makes up a key part of the Dragons attack, for which junior midfielder Ryan Conrad said Virginia must be prepared.
“I’d say they’re pretty much polar opposites from Loyola,” Conrad said. “Drexel has a lot of really great inside finishers… We had a tough battle with them last year, so we’re expecting them to come out with a lot of heavy pressure.”
But while Virginia acknowledges the unique threat posed by the Dragons’ more technical system, they plan to stay true to their style of play. Their preparation for Drexel this week was indicative of their belief in the effectiveness of Coach Tiffany’s system.
“It’s like any opponent,” junior defenseman Zach Ambrosino said. “Our preparation doesn’t change much… We treat every game like we’re 0-0 right now. We’re excited for the chance to improve and get another win.”
The Saturday matchup with Drexel is Virginia’s next step in its journey back to the postseason. Action begins at 1 p.m. from Vidas Field in Philadelphia.