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No. 5 men’s lacrosse drops a Senior Day battle at home to No. 11 Syracuse, 13-11

The Orange’s dominance at the face-off X ultimately propelled them to victory

<p>In what may have been his final game at Klöckner Stadium, Virginia star graduate student midfielder Dox Aitken was held to just one goal by the Orange.&nbsp;</p>

In what may have been his final game at Klöckner Stadium, Virginia star graduate student midfielder Dox Aitken was held to just one goal by the Orange. 

Following a commanding victory over Utah, No. 5 Virginia men’s lacrosse returned to conference play in another showdown against No. 11 Syracuse in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers (10-4, 2-4 ACC) — who suffered a humiliating 20-10 defeat against the Orange (6-4, 2-3 ACC) earlier in the season — looked to boost their resumé before the start of NCAA Tournament play and their defense of a second consecutive national championship. Falling far behind in the first quarter, the Cavaliers failed to finish the job against the Orange after recovering in the later portion of the game — dropping a crucial ACC matchup by a score of 13-11.

In a quiet first quarter, the Orange captured an early 2-0 lead only to have the Cavaliers respond with two of their own. Sophomore attackman Payton Cormier — who continues to excel as a goal-scorer in only his second season — evened the game, while redshirt freshman attackman Connor Shellenberger contributed two assists. This would be the closest Virginia would come to catching Syracuse until late in the third quarter. Freshman attackman Owen Hiltz spearheaded a 5-0 run with a late tally in the first, and a flurry of goals would soon follow in the second period of play.

Over the span of six minutes, the Orange began to fire on all cylinders, extending their lead to 7-2 with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. Hiltz both started and ended the impressive run, posting two goals and one assist while frustrating the Cavaliers with his craftiness around the crease. However, Virginia clawed back into the game on the shoulders of junior midfielder Xander Dickson, who fired in two quick goals to narrow the Orange lead to 7-4.

A game of cat and mouse would ensue throughout the third quarter, as Virginia mounted a 3-0 run of its own to slim the margin to 9-8. Dickson continued to flash on the offensive end and notched a goal and an assist during the run. Despite the impressive effort from the Cavaliers, Syracuse responded by scoring four consecutive goals to stretch the lead to 13-8. Ultimately, the offensive showcase from the Orange would stymie any chance for a late comeback. Graduate transfer attackman Charlie Bertrand made a late run with two goals, yet it would not be enough. 

Junior face-off specialist Petey LaSalla — who has been a key instrument for the Cavaliers’ success this season —  struggled at the X once again against Syracuse junior face-off specialist Jakob Phaup, winning only three draws out of 27. An uncharacteristic afternoon for LaSalla left the Cavaliers without much possession time, a tool they would need as the deficit began to grow.

“Unfortunately, that offense had the ball a lot today and we had to play a lot of defense because of their domination at the face-off X,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “So, give credit to Jakob Phaup for what he was able to do today against Petey [LaSalla] and the rest of us. We love Petey. Petey will be back, but today was Syracuse’s day at the face-off X and that’s the key to unleashing that offense.”

Senior goalie Alex Rode saw plenty of action on the defensive end, recording 16 saves and four ground balls in a valiant effort to stop the Syracuse onslaught. As mentioned before, Dickson anchored the Cavalier offense with three goals and an assist, while Shellenberger scored a hat trick as well. 

After a tough loss, Virginia will look to recover as the postseason looms. The Cavaliers will now have to wait until the NCAA Tournament selection show on May 9. The loss to the Orange will hopefully propel Virginia to greater heights and another national championship. With an unbelievable offensive arsenal, a star at the face-off X and a veteran defense, the Cavaliers have the tools to make it all the way to Memorial Day again.