No. 2 Virginia men’s lacrosse travels to Audi Field Saturday for a rematch of last year’s national championship with No. 1 Maryland. The Cavaliers (6-0, 2-0 ACC) are coming off a statement win on the road against North Carolina and look to continue their dominance against the Terrapins (6-0, 0-0 Big Ten).
In the previous matchup, Virginia and Maryland offenses were relatively unstoppable, with the game becoming the highest-scoring championship game in NCAA championship history. The stars were on full display for both teams, with current sophomore attackman Connor Shellenberger and graduate student attackman Matt Moore both scoring four goals and dishing out two assists. As for the Terrapins, then-senior attackman Jared Bernhart and current graduate student attackman Logan Wisnauskas led the way with five points and six points, respectively.
The key difference for the Terrapins this season is the loss of 2021 Tewaaraton winner Bernhart, who graduated as Maryland’s all-time leader in points and goals. Despite the loss, the Terrapins have filled the void and demonstrated that last week with a 24-6 victory over Albany. The major losses for the Cavaliers are midfielder Dox Aitken, attackman Ian Laviano and long-stick defensive midfielder Jared Connors, who was named the Lt. Donald MacLaughlin Jr. Outstanding Midfielder of the Year in 2021.
Keys to the game
Winning the face-off battle
One key to this matchup will be controlling possession so that Virginia’s offensive stars have ample opportunities to make plays. In last year’s national championship matchup, the battle at the face-off X was intense. Current senior face-off specialist Petey Lasalla was 21-37 against Maryland’s current junior Luke Wierman. Statistically, LaSalla is the greatest face-off specialist to come through Virginia’s program, but Wierman poses a challenge as he has almost a 70 percent success rate at the X this season. It is not just the specialists who determine the outcomes of the face-offs, however. Senior midfielder Jeff Connor and junior long stick midfielder Scott Bower will have to control the ground ball battle in order for LaSalla to have a successful afternoon.
Maryland’s star-studded offense against Virginia’s defense
Maryland’s star-studded offense may be tough to handle for the Virginia defense. Wisnauskas has 35 points on the season and is a dominant dodger from behind the cage and from the wing because of his vision and size. Look for Virginia’s sophomore defenseman Cole Kastner to be matched up on Wisnauskas. Kastner contained North Carolina star senior attackman Chris Gray to only one goal last game, so Kastner has the ability to lockdown the opposing team’s number one scoring threat. However, Wisnauskas, and senior midfielders Jonathan Donville and Kyle Long will inevitably get to the goal. It is imperative that Virginia’s defense shuts down the Terrapins supporting cast so that their stars have to win the game by themselves.
Virginia’s 10 man ride
The Cavaliers’ 10 man ride — a risky defensive strategy in which all 10 players on the field work together to prevent an opposing team from being able to successfully clear — was an integral part of their national championship run last season, forcing key turnovers by their opponent and awarding themselves key possessions in critical moments. Virginia was fifth in the NCAA in opponent clear percentage at 79.8 percent. The ride was largely successful against North Carolina last week and was a key reason for their 6-1 run in the second half. If their ride begins to overwhelm the Terrapins it could allow the Cavaliers to run away with the lead.
Saturday’s game will come down to which teams' offensive stars are able to produce against solid defensive units. If Virginia attempts to only win one-on-one matchups — which they have tried this season — it will be a long day for the Cavaliers. Virginia needs to play on offense and dodge with its eyes up so that they can see cutters for open shots. Freshman goalie Matthew Nunes will need to have another strong day in the cage for the Cavaliers to come out as victors as well. Expect Virginia’s defense to play well against the Terrapins’ offensive stars and limit their opportunities. Virginia’s offense will continue to produce like it has all season behind the talents of Shellenberger and Moore and the Cavaliers will leave Audi Field with a win.
Prediction: Virginia 15 - Maryland 13
The opening face-off is set for 3 p.m. Saturday, and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.