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No. 12 men’s lacrosse set for clash against No. 5 Duke in a battle of ACC heavyweights

The Cavaliers will look to continue their strong conference play against the talent-laden Blue Devils Saturday

<p>Sophomore attackman Michael Kraus has been particularly dominant for the Cavaliers this year, with 59 points on the year — 32 goals and 27 assists.</p>

Sophomore attackman Michael Kraus has been particularly dominant for the Cavaliers this year, with 59 points on the year — 32 goals and 27 assists.

The No. 12 Virginia men’s lacrosse team is set to face No. 5 Duke Saturday at Klöckner Stadium in a matchup of two college lacrosse powers, with conference and postseason implications in play.

Virginia (9-3, 1-2 ACC) has overcome a huge blow after junior midfielder and captain Ryan Conrad was injured during the Cavaliers’ game against Syracuse earlier in the season. Conrad has been sidelined for the season, but it still has the Cavaliers’ best season in three years. A return to the postseason looks likely, and with a victory against Duke (10-2, 2-1 ACC), Virginia could contend for a conference championship.

“Tonight was a big win in league play,” Coach Lars Tiffany said after the pivotal win against North Carolina this past weekend. “It gives us an opportunity to control our own destiny moving forward as opposed to hoping and waiting on other results. The destiny is back in our hands.”

Virginia can control its own destiny in the ACC. In order to do that, however, they need to beat Duke Saturday, which will be no small feat.

The Blue Devils have dominated this season and are sure to be national title contenders. Their only two losses came by just one point, at the hands of Penn and conference rivals Syracuse.

Duke was ranked No. 1 when it was upset by the Quakers, and has stayed in the top five the whole season. Some of the Blue Devils’ most impressive wins came against No. 3 Denver, who they beat 15-12, and their victory last weekend, an 8-2 drubbing of No. 8 Notre Dame. The two goals allowed by the Blue Devils mark the fewest Duke has conceded in an ACC contest since 2005, when they beat Virginia 17-2.

Duke has built off the defensive strides it made last season to cement itself as one of the best defensive college lacrosse teams in the nation. On offense, the Blue Devils are led by senior attackman Justin Guterding, who is one of the nation’s best. Guterding was named a second team all-American last year, and leads Duke with 68 points this year, 39 goals and 29 assists.

Guterding came up big in Duke’s matchup against Virginia last year, scoring six goals and picking up four assists in a 20-11 pummeling at Durham. He also took up the No. 2 spot on Duke’s career points list with two goals in the Blue Devils’ win over Notre Dame this past weekend.

Duke might be mighty, but don’t count the determined Cavaliers out. Virginia’s win against North Carolina Saturday provided an important spark for this crucial contest, as the Cavaliers return to Klöckner Stadium.

While Duke has Guterding, Virginia does not lack its share of superstars in attack. Sophomore attackman Michael Kraus has been particularly dominant for the Cavaliers this year, with 59 points on the year — 32 goals and 27 assists. He picked up three goals and four assists in Virginia’s win against the Tar Heels, and was named the ACC Offensive Player of the week as a result.

Sophomore midfielder Dox Aitken has also been huge for Virginia, with 36 points on the year, including 29 goals. Aitken is the fastest midfielder in Virginia history to the 50-goal mark, accomplishing the feat in just 25 games. His size, skill and work ethic make him a matchup nightmare. Aitken’s long shot is especially dangerous.

Duke’s stingy defense will have no easy time dealing with Virginia’s dynamic sophomore duo, in addition to the attacking power of freshman attackman Ian Laviano and midfielder Matt Moore, who has come on strong recently.

With two supremely talented offenses, however, the possession battle will ultimately decide the game. This is where Virginia’s star faceoff man, sophomore midfielder  Justin Schwenk, comes in. Schwenk and his wingmen must win the faceoff and ground ball battle for the Cavaliers to beat the Blue Devils Saturday.

Expect a high-powered, gritty battle Saturday at Klöckner. Faceoff begins at 1 p.m.

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