In a rematch of the 2018 ACC Tournament final, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team is set to face Notre Dame Saturday at Klöckner Stadium at 2 p.m. as the programs battle for the ACC Tournament title.
After having their eight-game winning streak snapped in early April, the top-seeded Cavaliers (12-3, 3-1 ACC) have now won three consecutive games including a pair of dominant victories to close out the regular season and a thrilling comeback win in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. Against North Carolina last weekend, Virginia erased a four-goal deficit and ended the game on a 6-1 run to advance to its second straight ACC final.
While third-seeded Notre Dame (8-5, 2-2 ACC) has not been the most consistent team in the conference, the defending champions seem to be getting hot at exactly the right moment. The Fighting Irish enter the final after back-to-back 12-10 wins first against North Carolina in their regular season finale and then against Duke last Saturday.
Both teams have a lot on the line this weekend as Virginia hopes to avenge its 17-7 loss last year in the final, while Notre Dame hopes to successfully defend its title for the first time in program history.
Players to watch
Virginia junior attackman Michael Kraus
A top-five player in the ACC in virtually every offensive statistical category, Kraus is the central driving force of the Virginia attack. The Connecticut native is one of the most dynamic, do-it-all attackmen in the country. He creates goalscoring opportunities for his teammates, scores with lethal finishing and even causes turnovers with his aggressive riding. Kraus’ play is pivotal for the Cavaliers. In Virginia’s two losses this season with Kraus on the field, the Tewaaraton Trophy nominee scored just a single goal. Against Duke, the Kraus-less Cavaliers recorded their lowest goal total of the season. In other words, Virginia has never lost this season when Kraus scores multiple times. Clearly, his importance to the team is enormous, and he’ll have to be firing on all cylinders for Virginia to win Saturday.
Virginia sophomore attackman Matt Moore
Moore has arguably been Virginia’s most underrated player this year. While he doesn’t make flashy plays like Kraus, set program records like junior midfielder Dox Aitken or score as often as sophomore attackman Ian Laviano, Moore’s contribution to the team is just as important. The Pennsylvania native is one of the best playmakers in the country. After transitioning from the midfield to the attack, Moore’s versatility is what makes him such a dangerous threat, as he is a terrific passer and scorer. Moore leads the team in total points and assists and is second in goals scored. With his six-assist performance against North Carolina last week, Moore demonstrated once again that he can contribute to a team in a variety of ways. If Moore plays at a high level Saturday, he will provide some instant offense for the home team.
Keys to the game
Win the faceoff battle
The Fighting Irish lead the ACC with an impressive 59.1 faceoff win percentage. Strong faceoff play allows Notre Dame to limit its opponents’ scoring opportunities while creating more for themselves. Specifically, Notre Dame junior midfielder Charles Leonard has been in incredible form for the Fighting Irish. The All-ACC faceoff specialist wins 59.7 percent of his faceoffs and is coming off a dominant performance against Duke, where he won 17-26 faceoffs. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Virginia freshman midfielder Petey LaSalla has also been prolific at the X this season. LaSalla is one of only two players in the ACC with a faceoff win percentage greater than 60 percent and has consistently improved over the course of the season. The battle between Leonard and LaSalla will be one of the most interesting head-to-head matchups in the game.
While Notre Dame’s offense isn’t exactly prolific, the Fighting Irish are actually the most clinical team in the ACC, scoring on nearly a third of their shots. Although Notre Dame is last in the conference in both shots and goals per game, the team can be clearly lethal when it does have a goalscoring opportunity. For Virginia to counter Notre Dame’s highly accurate shooting, sophomore goalkeeper Alex Rode and freshman goalkeeper Patrick Burkinshaw will have to step up. Both goalies rank in the top six in the ACC with categories like save percentage, saves per game and goals against average — Virginia is the only team with two players in any of these categories. If Virginia can successfully keep the majority of junior midfielder Bryan Costabile and company’s shots out of the net, the Cavaliers will have a great chance to win the game.
The bottom line
Both teams have clear strengths that they will try to exploit. Notre Dame will try to dominate possession and take open shots, while Virginia will try to force turnovers and push the pace in transition.
For each team, the performance of a few key players will be pivotal. The Fighting Irish will rely on Leonard and Costabile to continue playing some of the best players in the ACC at their respective positions. On the other hand, the Cavaliers will lean on the quartet of Kraus, Aitken, Moore and Laviano, as they’ve done all season long.
Virginia has a tendency to play close games, and the ACC final should be no different.
Expect a thrilling and intense ACC showdown Saturday as Notre Dame travels to Charlottesville to play Virginia in the final of the 2019 ACC Championship. Faceoff is set for 2 p.m.