No. 4 men’s lacrosse set to face No. 18 North Carolina in ranked ACC showdown

Cavaliers hope to remain undefeated in conference play with win against the ranked Tar Heels

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Junior attackman Michael Kraus will once again look to lead the Cavaliers to victory against North Carolina.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Boasting a seven-game winning streak — the program’s largest since 2012 — the No. 4 Virginia men’s lacrosse team will welcome No. 18 North Carolina to Klöckner Stadium Saturday April 6. 

After winning twice this past weekend, Virginia (8-2, 2-0 ACC) is firing on all cylinders and hasn’t lost since mid-February. During their current winning stretch, the Cavaliers have taken down the likes of No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 13 Syracuse and No. 20 Johns Hopkins. Most recently, Virginia cruised past Richmond and Utah by a combined margin of victory of 20. 

North Carolina (7-3, 1-0 ACC) has also been red-hot as of late, having won four of its last five matches, including a statement victory against No. 6 Duke last Saturday. While they haven’t had the most difficult schedule in the country, the Tar Heels are positioned to pull off the upset as they look to build momentum late in the regular season. 

Players to watch:

Virginia junior attackman Michael Kraus

Kraus has been in incredible form during Virginia’s current seven-game winning streak, recording 19 goals and 16 assists in that stretch. After being held scoreless against High Point Feb. 18, Kraus has scored nearly three goals a game in the last month and a half. Kraus’ fast playing style and playmaking ability makes him a nightmare to defend. The Connecticut native has the raw talent to beat defenders one-on-one as well as the vision to find teammates in space when he is often double-teamed. In other words, teams have to pick their poison in terms of how to defend Kraus whose versatile offensive skill set allows him to attack the opposing defense in a variety of ways. As the Virginia attack faces a North Carolina defense that just held Duke to eight goals, Kraus has to have a big game and we shouldn’t expect him to not to.

Virginia freshman midfielder Petey LaSalla

Last weekend against Utah and Richmond, LaSalla won nearly 80 percent of his faceoffs as he continually gave Virginia extra possessions throughout the game. The Cavaliers who have, at times this season, suffered periods of poor shooting are able to gain numerous more scoring opportunities when LaSalla is playing at a high level at the faceoff X. Considering the challenge North Carolina’s strong defense poses, a solid showing from LaSalla against the Tar Heels’ faceoff specialists — freshman midfielder Zachary Tucci and sophomore midfielder Ryan O’Connell — can help keep the Virginia offense rolling. 

Keys to the game:

Win the turnover battle

This season, Virginia’s ride has been one of the team’s greatest strengths, consistently forcing turnovers, poor decisions and inaccurate passes. Coach Lars Tiffany has emphasized the ride during the Cavaliers’ practices, and it’s clearly paying off on the field. It all starts up top where the Virginia attackmen put pressure on the opposing team, while the midfielders probe and hunt for a turnover opportunity. On the other side of the ball, the Cavaliers have to avoid mistakes and take care of the ball. In a season where the “Cardiac Cavs” have had to play close game after close game, every possession might count.

Come out firing in the first half

Virginia has a tendency, especially against strong opponents, to start off slow and give up sizable leads. For instance, the Cavaliers had to come back from four goals down in the fourth quarter against both Brown and Syracuse just to force overtime. While Virginia’s ability to never give up and score in bunches down the stretch is admirable, having to make incredible comebacks to win games isn’t ideal. Instead of playing games filled with runs from both teams, Virginia has to be locked in from the very beginning so they can control the match from start to finish.  

The bottom line

At the end of the day, this game may very well come down to whether Virginia’s vaunted attack or North Carolina’s resilient defense comes out on top. 

On Virginia’s side, the attacking quartet of Kraus, junior midfielder Dox Aitken and sophomore attackmen Ian Laviano and Matt Moore will be key. However, if North Carolina freshman goalkeeper Caton Johnson has another prolific game like his 21-save record-breaking performance against Duke last week, the Cavaliers could be in trouble. 

The upcoming game will mark the 83rd all-time meeting between the two programs who have faced off annually since 1964. After Virginia secured their first ACC victory in four years against North Carolina last season, the Cavaliers are aiming for back-to-back wins against their in-conference rival.

Expect a close back-and-forth game as Virginia takes on North Carolina this Saturday April 6 at Klöckner Stadium. Faceoff is set for 1 p.m. 

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