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No. 1 Virginia men’s lacrosse defeats Air Force in season opener

The Cavaliers overcame a slow start en route to conquering the Falcons

<p>Multiple scoring runs by the Cavaliers on offense were key in locking up the win.</p>

Multiple scoring runs by the Cavaliers on offense were key in locking up the win.

On a chilly Saturday afternoon at Klöckner Stadium, the No. 1 Virginia men’s lacrosse team, looking to win its third straight NCAA championship, faced Air Force in their season opener. After a slow start, the Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) defeated the Falcons (0-1, 0-0 ASUN) with a score of 21-11. 

Air Force came out of the gates ready to compete as sophomore defenseman Chris Bardak scored the first goal of the season for the Falcons. Less than a minute later, sophomore attackman Aidan Tolen extended their lead to 2-0. The rest of the quarter was a defensive battle as both goalies made stops until a failed Virginia clearance led to an Air Force goal to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. 

Griffin Shutz, freshman attackman and No. 1 overall recruit, got the Cavaliers on the board for the first time early in the second quarter to make it 3-1. Junior attackman Xander Dickson quickly scored again with graduate student Evan Zinn following suit to tie the game at 3-3. Both had four goals on the day. 

Air Force responded with two quick goals only 12 seconds apart by junior attackman Brandon Dodd before Virginia went on a 7-1 run to close out the first half and take a 10-6 lead into half time. Highlighting the run was two unassisted goals courtesy of senior faceoff specialist Petey Lasalla as well as sophomore attackman Connor Shellenberger’s first goal of the season — a season that Cavalier fans will hope cement his status as one of the best in college lacrosse.

After halftime the Cavaliers came out of the locker room in the lead and never looked back. Virginia scored seven straight goals in the 3rd quarter — stretching the lead to 17-6 — to put the game out of reach. In the period, Shellenberger tallied three assists while Dickson and junior attackman Payton Cormier each scored a hat trick. The Cavaliers showed dominance on the offensive end — any player that touched the ball was a threat to score or break down an Air Force defender and make the right play. 

Shellenberger, one of the most talented players in collegiate lacrosse, displayed his talents Saturday afternoon tallying two goals and five assists, as well as leading the game in points with seven. 

Virginia was able to control the game in large part to Lasalla, who controlled the faceoff while still providing offense, scoring two goals. Because of Virginia’s sizable lead late in the game, the Cavaliers were able to rest most of their starters in the fourth quarter, allowing for some young players to get some valuable experience. 

The final period was back and forth, with Virginia junior attackman Will Cory adding two goals, bringing the final score to 21-11.

“To have success like that was key today because with the slow start and not winning a lot of faceoffs, where else are we going to get those extra possessions?” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “So, we got those and then we got better on the faceoffs to get those possessions.”

The next time the Cavaliers take the field will be Sunday at 3 p.m. in the friendly confines of Klöckner Stadium as they take on High Point. The game will be broadcast on ACCNX.

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