After wins against Michigan and Harvard to begin the season, No. 1 Virginia carried their momentum from last week into a top-ten matchup against No. 9 Ohio State in Naples, Fla. Saturday. The Cavaliers (3-0, 0-0 ACC) took an early lead and never looked back, scoring the first two goals against the Buckeyes (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) and securing a 17-6 victory.
Senior attacker Payton Cormier brought his season scoring total to 15 after posting seven in the game, which tied for the second-most in a single game in program history. On a day in which college lacrosse’s top 10 shook up even further — with five of the 10 falling — Virginia further solidified its case for the top spot against a proven Buckeyes roster. Coach Lars Tiffany’s defense finally emerged, holding Ohio State to six goals after giving up a combined 34 in their first two games.
Graduate midfielder Jeff Conner started things off with a lefty goal nearly four minutes into the game, which was shortly followed by a pretty dodge and finish from junior attacker Patrick McIntosh to make it 2-0. After a goal by the Buckeyes brought the lead to one, graduate student face-off specialist Petey LaSalla entered the mix.
The nation’s premier face-off scorer, LaSalla turned two wins at the X into two goals for the Cavaliers, bringing his season scoring total to six. Virginia erred on their patented 10-man ride by allowing Ohio State goalie Skylar Wahlund to score on an empty net from his own defensive end, but LaSalla’s second tally extended Virginia’s lead to 4-2 with 3:28 to play in the first.
The Buckeyes paced the Cavaliers with a two-goal stretch from senior attacker Jack Myers, narrowing Virginia’s lead to 5-4 in the second quarter. Two consecutive finishes from Cormier — including one with three seconds to play — gave the Cavaliers a 7-4 advantage as both teams headed into halftime.
Virginia’s defensive adjustments paid dividends in the last 30 minutes. The Cavalier defense forced 23 turnovers by the Buckeyes and held them to just 14 shots on goal, with only four chances coming in the second half. The offense, meanwhile, picked up from where it left off in the Harvard game.
Cormier could not be stopped in the third quarter, tallying four more goals and giving Virginia as large as a 14-6 lead. A 7-2 differential in the quarter put the nail in the coffin for Ohio State, who could not find their way through an improved Cavalier defense. The Buckeyes would not score in the fourth quarter, and Virginia would add three more to cement a 17-6 win away from Charlottesville.
“The difference was our defense on-ball,” said Coach Tiffany. “When we did slide, it was with aggression, not passiveness.”
Apart from Cormier, senior defender Cade Saustad starred in the match, causing four turnovers and neutralizing Ohio State’s premier attacker in Myers. Despite posting two goals, the Buckeyes’ leading scorer could not escape Saustad and the rest of the Virginia defense in their first dominant performance of the season. Virginia’s offense, moreover, proved once again that it can score at will.
Even with a quiet game from junior attacker Connor Shellenberger — who tallied just two assists in the win — nine Cavaliers found the back of the net. As many have noticed throughout the first three games of the season, no one has managed to slow down this offense. If Virginia can keep up its strong defense behind Saustad and junior defender Cole Kastner, though, the squad may be able to avenge two of its losses last year when Maryland comes to town March 16.
The Cavaliers will return to Charlottesville Saturday to take on Richmond (2-1, 0-0 SoCon) — a team who took down Virginia last season in an upset victory. Face-off is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network Extra.