Fresh off of winning the ACC Tournament, the third-seeded Virginia men’s lacrosse team will meet Robert Morris Saturday in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship. The Cavaliers (13-3, 3-1 ACC) and the Colonials (9-7, 4-2 NEC) will face off at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville with a 7:30 p.m. start time.
The last matchup between Virginia and Robert Morris in 2017 ended with a 13-7 win for the Cavaliers. Following an impressive season, Virginia received an at-large bid to the tournament as the No. 3 seed, securing its highest seed since 2010.
After a few challenging seasons, Coach Lars Tiffany has built one of the most talented and well-rounded squads in the country. The red-hot Cavaliers have won 12 of their last 13 games, all while dominating ACC and non-conference foes by an average margin of victory of 3.9 goals.
Even though Virginia has immense talent all over the field, the Cavaliers are led by arguably the best attacking trio in the nation — sophomore attackmen Ian Laviano and Matt Moore and junior attackman Michael Kraus. The three have scored 109 goals between them and have all stepped up at different points of the season for the Cavaliers who average 14 goals per game — sixth-best in the country.
On the defensive side, Virginia is anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Alex Rode who has demonstrated the ability to perform well on the biggest stages. Against Notre Dame in the ACC final last weekend, Rode produced a sensational 11-save performance and limited the Fighting Irish to a season-low four goals.
While Virginia was always expected to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, Robert Morris secured an unlikely berth by winning the NEC Tournament.
Robert Morris has had an interesting season, to say the least. The Colonials lost seven of their first eight games and struggled to manage keep up with a very difficult opening slate of games. However, since March 30, they have rattled off eight straight victories and seem to be in tremendous form.
The Colonials and Coach Andrew McMinn are well known for their fast-paced playing style. Robert Morris can score in bunches, push the pace in transition and keep up with virtually any offense in the tournament.
Robert Morris has the 12th-best scoring offense in the country — 13.69 goals per game — and the 18th-best shot percentage — 30.6 percent. The Colonials are led by sophomore attackman Corson Kealey who has scored 48 goals this season, converting shots at a rate of 40.7 percent.
In addition to an effective offense, Robert Morris senior goalkeeper Alex Heger is a defensive stalwart in cage. In the NEC title game against Hobart, Heger made 12 saves to help the Colonials pull off the upset.
In many ways, the Cavaliers and the Colonials are built in the same mold. The two teams rely on electric attacking and timely defending and have a tendency to play close games that come down to the wire.
However, the key difference between the programs this season concerns experience. Virginia has faced seven of the 16 teams in the tournament this season and has a 6-2 record against them. Robert Morris, on the other hand, has only played two tournament teams in 2019 and lost both games. The Cavaliers are battle-tested and know exactly how to win big games against elite teams, which could be the difference-maker in this matchup.
If Virginia wants to have a chance of securing its sixth national championship, the Cavaliers will have to first get past Robert Morris. Expect a high-scoring game Saturday at Klöckner Stadium as Virginia makes its 39th all-time NCAA appearance.