Virginia lacrosse is on the brink of establishing another dynasty. With the disappointment — if you can call it that — following last season’s quarterfinal exit against eventual champion Maryland, the Cavaliers have rebuilt in what may be another historic year for this lacrosse program.
Coach Lars Tiffany is morphing into the godfather of recruiting, pulling in classes laden with five-stars and snatching the top players in the transfer portal like it’s just another day at the office. One recent development, moreover, may end up making or breaking the Cavaliers’ season — the transfer of No. 1 overall lacrosse recruit, graduate student midfielder Ricky Miezan.
Miezan — a former standout linebacker at Stanford— is not your run-of-the-mill midfielder. Imagine a former All-Pac 12 football honoree — one who sacked USC’s Heisman winning quarterback Caleb Williams — donning lacrosse pads and finishing what he started after gaining the No. 1 overall recruiting rank in high school. Questions of his rustiness remain, but the physicality of Miezan — 6-foot-3, 245 pounds — nonetheless provides reason for endless optimism in Charlottesville.
The Stanford transfer isn’t the only noteworthy addition from an unbelievable offseason. Tiffany amassed another five-star crop of recruits in the class of 2022, with freshman attacker Truitt Sunderland leading the charge as the No. 2 overall recruit.
Besides the likes of Sunderland and top-fifteen recruits in freshmen defender John Schroter, midfielder Joey Terenzi and face-off man Mac Eldridge, Tiffany did the impossible by switching former Duke verbal commit and No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2023 — attacker McCabe Millon. To add insult to injury for the rest of the ACC, the Cavaliers received a firm commitment from the No. 1 player in the class of 2024 — attacker Ryan Duenkel, a D.C. native with deep Virginia ties.
How many No. 1 overall recruits does that now make in the recent history of Virginia lacrosse? Five — Duenkel, Millon, sophomore attacker Griffin Schutz, junior attacker Connor Shellenberger and Miezan. Even Maryland would be licking its chops over the recruiting masterclass that Tiffany has orchestrated. I haven’t really mentioned 2019’s No. 1 man — Shellenberger — who has starred for the Cavaliers as an offensive stalwart and Tewaaraton Award finalist. Shellenberger, Miezan and 2021’s No. 1 recruit — Schutz — will now take the field together as the three-man wrecking crew of former No. 1 recruits.
What are some other developments that deserve mentioning? Well, let’s look at the other pieces that will make this team click in 2023.
Midfield Depth: Where’s the weakness?
Miezan and senior attacker, Xander Dickson — who can play either midfield or attack — and Thomas McConvey — a Vermont transfer graduate student midfielder — will likely take the field as the first midfield unit in the spring. Now, there may be questions surrounding McConvey — who has been dealing with a shoulder injury this fall — yet the 2022 America East Offensive Player of the Year will surely be deployed once healthy. Miezan’s availability will also be a toss-up considering his time away from the sport, yet I suspect he’ll be inserted into the first midfield unit as the season progresses. You just can’t leave him off the field.
The depth behind these three is more than considerable. Graduate student Jeff Conner — who may begin the season as a starter out of the midfield — has been a steady contributor for the Cavaliers after posting a 32-point campaign last season, and is a rare two-way midfielder in an increasingly specialized game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Conner started the season ahead of either Miezan or McConvey, but could see his role become more defensively-oriented as the former gets back in his groove. Also, don’t be surprised if Schutz or Terenzi get some more reps with the first and second midfield units.
Junior defender Cole Kastner will spearhead the Velociraptor defense
Nothing has changed from a defensive standpoint. The same trio — Kastner, senior Cade Saustad and some combination of seniors Scott Bower and Quentin Matsui — will anchor the defensive unit this season in another showcase of the Velociraptors — with three guys over 6’3, it’s fair to say that this unit is pretty rangy. Despite the overall consistency of the Virginia defense in recent years, one has risen above the rest as a top cover man — Kastner. “Project 39” — as Coach Tiffany has dubbed in response to Kastner's development — has done nothing but proven that he can play at the highest level — even if his relative inexperience with the sport raised some eyebrows from the jump.
A second-team All-American in 2022, Kastner frequently took the assignment of covering opponents’ best attackers and wreaked havoc in the process. Project 39 twice won ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors and recorded the most caused turnovers in a single-season by a Virginia player since 2017. The experiment has worked thus far, and Kastner will once again be a backbone for a defense who returns all of its talent.
What can we expect from the freshmen?
There are few spots available within the starting lineup, yet there remains a chance that several of the youngsters will gain minutes early on. Sunderland — the midfield/attack hybrid who is undersized yet blessed with his quickness — slotted in at midfield during the Cavaliers’ fall scrimmages in place of the injured McConvey and Dickson, scoring three goals against Lehigh. He has exceeded expectations at every level — including his time at Calvert Hall in Baltimore, where he excelled against Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) competition — and will likely make a push for a spot on the second midfield in his first year.
Terenzi and defender John Schroter look like the next two candidates to see the field. Tiffany has gushed about Terenzi’s ability as a swiss-army knife — providing a defensive and offensive spark — and Schroter has plenty of potential despite suffering a lower-body injury in the fall. It is unlikely that any of the three will start this season due to the incredible depth the Cavaliers possess, yet they will surely find their role by May. Come 2024, Virginia will need these young guns to fill an even bigger role.
The buzz is palpable, and it’s not too early to consider how far this team may go. Will Miezan look like his old self again? Will Kastner continue where he left off, building an even stingier defensive unit? The answers lie in the midst, yet the potential for Virginia men’s lacrosse is higher than it’s ever been — am I allowed to say that?