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Previewing No. 5 men’s lacrosse versus No. 11 Syracuse

The Cavaliers look to avenge an early season 20-10 loss to their long-time rival

<p>The Cavaliers and Orange will meet for the 38th time in a storied series that Syracuse leads, 19-18.</p>

The Cavaliers and Orange will meet for the 38th time in a storied series that Syracuse leads, 19-18.

No. 5 Virginia men’s lacrosse looks to close out their regular season with a win Saturday against visiting ACC rival Syracuse. The Cavaliers (10-3, 2-3 ACC) are coming off of a win against Utah and look to take home a victory in the last game this season at Klöckner. Virginia opened up ACC play this year with a disappointing 20-10 loss to the Orange (5-4, 1-3 ACC) less than two months ago and hopes to end the regular season on a high note.

In the previous matchup between the two teams, Syracuse’s offense simply overpowered the Cavaliers. The Orange midfield, composed of sophomore Tucker Dordevic and juniors Brendan Curry and Jamie Trimboli, combined for 12 points. The Orange also did a great job limiting Virginia’s star junior faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla, who was recently named to the Tewaaraton Award Top 25 list. Syracuse won two-thirds of the faceoffs in the first matchup, controlling possession and keeping the ball away from the potent Cavalier offense.

The biggest headline coming into this weekend’s game is the indefinite suspension of Syracuse’s leading goal-scorer, sophomore attackman Chase Scanlan. Coming as a big surprise following their big 21-9 loss to North Carolina, the Orange will need to find that third attackman to start alongside senior Stephen Rehfuss and freshman Owen Hiltz. Junior attackman Owen Seebold would presumably get the start at attack — he currently is the leading point-scorer outside of the starting six offensive players.

Virginia’s star-studded offense vs. All-american senior goalie Drake Porter

In the first outing against Syracuse, Virginia’s star players, senior attackman Matt Moore and senior midfielder Dox Aitken combined for a whopping zero goals and one assist. If the Cavaliers want to have any chance at winning, they are going to have to score more than 10 goals as a team and more than one point from their two stars. Moore was recently named to the Tewaaraton Award Top 25 list, and any success that Virginia has offensively will depend on him. Porter also recorded 15 saves for the Orange, stymying one of the best offenses in the country. He has established himself as the premier goalie in the country thus far and looks to continue his stellar season into Saturday’s matchup.

LaSalla vs. junior faceoff specialist Jakob Phaup

LaSalla has been nothing short of dominant this year, winning 66.9% of his faceoffs on the year. As mentioned before, he was named to the Tewaaraton Award Top 25 list, one of only two faceoff specialists to make the coveted list. 

LaSalla has all the talent in the world to dominate this matchup for the Cavaliers, but in a part of the game that is so individualized, LaSalla hopes to win the second matchup of the year. He is the ignition switch for the Cavalier offense, providing stars like Moore and Aitken — alongside redshirt freshman attackman Connor Shellenberger and sophomore Payton Cormier — as many opportunities as possible.

Syracuse’s offensive midfield vs. Virginia’s defensive midfield

The aforementioned Orange midfield is one of the best in the country, dominating matchups en route to the 20-10 victory over the Cavaliers earlier this year. However, Virginia’s defensive midfield unit has seen incredible improvement over the past two months, as noted by Coach Lars Tiffany.

“I thought our defensive midfielders stepped up today and played some of their best defense they have,” Tiffany said following the loss to Duke April 15.

Senior short-stick defensive midfielders John Fox and Jack Peele, alongside junior short-stick defensive midfielders Chris Merle and Grayson Sallade, have made huge steps since the last outing against the Orange — one in which the Syracuse trio dominated nearly every matchup.

Virginia senior long-stick midfielder Jared Conners has also held steady for the unit and was also recently named to the Tewaaraton Award Top 25 list, one of only four defenders to make the list. He has been helped by freshman defender Cole Kastner, whom Tiffany has nicknamed “Project 39,” after his jersey number. The talented defender has a 6-foot-7 frame and has been outperforming any expectations coming into this year.

Virginia’s senior class vs. Father Time

Tiffany announced earlier this week that while Moore and Peele intend to use their fifth year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, senior attackman Ian Laviano and senior defender Kyle Kology will be playing their last game at Klöckner Stadium this Saturday. Both have been key cogs in the Cavalier starting lineup since they were both freshman and will surely be missed.

Conners and Aitken, two fifth-year players, will also be playing their last game at Klöckner, alongside graduate transfer attackman Charlie Bertrand. While not all of the seniors have decided on their plans going forward — such as star senior goalie Alex Rode — they will all be honored with the traditional senior day festivities.

The Cavaliers look to close out their regular season with a win on senior day, while the Orange are in search of a much-needed victory, as a loss would send them home with a 5-5 overall record and a 1-4 conference record. Needing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse would still be expected to make the tournament heading into Selection Sunday even with a loss. However, with a 5-5, 1-4 ACC record, nothing is certain, especially with the committee’s propensity to only select teams with winning records. 

Opening faceoff at Klöckner Stadium for one of lacrosse’s most storied rivalries is set for 12 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.