Virginia men’s lacrosse travels to Providence, R.I. Saturday to take on No. 8 Brown in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship. The Cavaliers (11-3, 5-1 ACC) enter this postseason in search of their third consecutive NCAA Championship while the Bears (10-5, 4-2 Ivy League) look to continue their impressive season after becoming the Ivy League regular-season champions.
Both teams received at-large bids to the NCAA tournament due to the ACC not having a conference tournament for Virginia to earn an automatic bid while Brown fell to Pennsylvania in the semifinals of the Ivy League conference tournament. Virginia enters this game off the heels of dominant wins against Lafayette, Syracuse and Quinnipiac and will look to carry that momentum on the road against the Bears.
Key players to watch for the Cavaliers
Graduate student attacker Matt Moore and sophomore attacker Connor Shellenberger
The dynamic offensive duo of Moore and Shellenberger has given the Virginia offense life all year. The duo provides the Cavaliers with a two-quarterback attack, with Moore and Shellenberger being the primary initiators of the offense. Expect these two to open up opportunities for junior attackers Payton Cormier and Xander Dickson. Shellenberger is fifth in the NCAA in assists per game and will look to continue to add to his total in the postseason. On the other hand, Moore, who was drafted fourth overall in the Premier Lacrosse League draft Tuesday, became Virginia’s all-time leader in points against Lafayette and will continue to add to his total.
Freshman goalie Matthew Nunes
Nunes has produced an impressive freshman season with his best game against Notre Dame March 26 when he produced 14 saves and only allowed five goals. The importance of goalkeeper performance in making a deep postseason run cannot be overstated — a fact demonstrated by former Cavalier goalie Alex Rode’s National Championship clinching save in the closing seconds against Maryland last year. If Virginia wants to continue playing in May, Nunes will have to continue to play at a high level.
Senior face-off specialist Petey LaSalla
LaSalla has been excellent this season and is currently seventh in the nation in face-off percentage at 61.4 percent. LaSalla will go up against junior face-off specialist Matthew Gunty who has a 52.7 face-off win percentage. Look for LaSalla not only at the face-off X, but also after as he has proven to be more than just a face-off specialist, scoring seven goals this season.
Key players to watch for the Bears
Senior midfielder Ryan Aughavin
Aughavin was a First Team All-Ivy League selection this season and was drafted by the Archers in the Premier Lacrosse League Tuesday. The midfielder has proven to be an essential part of the Bears offense this season as a key initiator with 28 goals and 13 assists.
Junior attacker Devon McLane
McLane has been Brown’s top scorer this season with 46 goals, and if Virginia wants to win, it is essential that the defense limits him. Expect either sophomore defender Cole Kastner or junior defender Cade Saustad to be matched up on him.
Senior defender Andrew Geppert
Geppert has been the backbone for this Bears defense this season and will look to be matched up against either Shellenberger or Moore. Geppert is a disruptor with 22 created turnovers this season.
The game will come down to the face-off battle between LaSalla and Gunty as well as to whether the Virginia offense manages to get into a rhythm early. If LaSalla and his wings lose the face-off and ground ball battle, it will allow Brown to keep the game low scoring and keep themselves in the game. Offensively, the Cavaliers will need to continue to produce like it has all season, which starts with the performances of Moore and Shellenberger.
Prediction: Virginia 13 - Brown 10
The opening face-off is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.