After a nail-biting win over Bryant in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, No. 4 Virginia traveled to Hempstead, N.Y. to meet its next foe — No. 5 Georgetown, the Big East champion. This would be the fifth meeting between the two schools and the first since 2016 after Virginia escaped with an 8-7 victory in D.C. This time the outcome would not be so close, as the Cavaliers (12-4, 2-4 ACC) trounced the Hoyas (13-3, 9-1 Big East) en route to a 14-3 win in the quarterfinals. Virginia — playing one of the most complete games of its season — managed to quiet a potent Georgetown offense for the majority of the contest.
The Cavaliers struggled to establish a consistent lead in their first round game against Bryant and allowed the Bulldogs to go on several goal-scoring runs. However, Virginia would rely on a massive 9-0 run over the course of the first half to essentially put the game away. After the Hoyas tied the affair at 1-1, they would not answer the stretch of Cavalier goals until the beginning of the third quarter. Redshirt freshman attackman Connor Shellenberger shined during the offensive showcase with five goals of his own, while five other Cavaliers contributed one each in the first half. Georgetown — who saw its First Team All-Big East junior face-off man James Reilly go down early with an injury — lost valuable possessions and spent much of its time on defense. Junior face-off man Petey LaSalla — a second team All-American — went 16-for-21 from the X and once again catalyzed the Virginia offense.
More of the same occurred in the second half, with the Cavaliers providing no room for a comeback opportunity after a 4-0 run in the third quarter. Shellenberger poured in his sixth and tied the Virginia NCAA Tournament single-game record for most goals in the process. Ultimately, the Hoyas doomed themselves by going 28:32 without a goal in the first half. The drought — which was broken by a goal early in the third quarter — repeated as Georgetown went 23:04 without a point. Virginia’s defense suffocated senior attackman Jake Carraway — a finalist for lacrosse’s highly acclaimed Tewaaraton Trophy — and broke the nation’s longest active goal streak of 44 games. Freshman attackman TJ Haley — who leads the NCAA with 49 assists — did not record a single point.
“A fantastic complete effort by this team, starting with Petey LaSalla at the faceoff X, giving us those extra possessions,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “The ride in the first half when we were being aggressive with that big hit by Dox Aitken setting the tone in the middle of the field. Payton Cormier got a ball back. Xander Dickson picking off a pass and scoring, it was creating those extra possessions that allowed us to attack a defense that's athletic, and that was key to today.”
In addition to Shellenberger’s outstanding performance, many other Cavaliers starred without notching multiple goals — senior midfielder Dox Aitken laid a punishing hit on Georgetown senior defenseman Gibson Smith, while senior defenseman Kyle Kology finished the contest with three ground balls and three caused turnovers. Senior goalie Alex Rode played a complete game in the cage, and LaSalla dictated the pace of play for a team that thrives off of extra possessions.
The Cavaliers will move on to play a familiar foe in the semifinals — No. 1 seeded North Carolina. Virginia is 1-1 against the Tar Heels this season after a 18-16 win in Chapel Hill and a 16-13 loss in Charlottesville. Both teams boast an explosive offense and some dynamic playmakers, including North Carolina senior attackman Chris Gray and Virginia attackmen in Shellenberger and senior Matt Moore. The third contest between the two will decide who moves on to Memorial Day, with the game kicking off at noon at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn. Tune in to ESPN2 at 12 p.m. on Saturday to witness the South’s Oldest Rivalry on lacrosse’s greatest stage.