No. 1 Virginia men’s lacrosse scored the first nine goals of the game on their way to defeating No. 18 Harvard by a score of 25-21 Saturday in Charlottesville. Although the Cavaliers (2-0, 0-0 ACC) dominated most of the game, the Crimson (0-1, 0-0 Ivy League) were able to cut into the lead at the end after Virginia’s starters had been pulled from the game. Regardless, the Cavaliers never trailed and were able to take care of the lower-ranked opponent.
Junior attacker Connor Shellenberger scored the first goal of the afternoon for Virginia. Immediately after, he would go on to record an assist on the second goal made by graduate student midfielder Thomas McConvey, who has now extended his point streak to 53 games in a row.
This was just the beginning of the explosion on offense for the Cavaliers, who would score the first nine goals of the match before Harvard found the back of the net. The score was 11-3 after the first quarter, and from there the rout was on. Even graduate student Petey LaSalla — normally a face-off specialist — scored to make the match 5-0, showing how everyone in Virginia’s offense could get involved.
The Harvard defense was no match for Shellenberger — who had a career-high 10-point performance — finishing the game with three goals and seven assists. This was just the 17th 10-point performance in program history for Virginia.
Redshirt senior attacker Xander Dickson was equally unstoppable, adding five goals of his own, four of which were assisted by Shellenberger. At halftime, the Cavaliers were up by a score of 20-8, which was more than the squad scored in all but five entire games last season. The gravity of this feat was not lost on Coach Lars Tiffany.
“To score 20 goals in the first half on [Harvard Coach] Gerry Byrne’s defense is unheard of. Gerry is one of the best defensive coaches — great coach, period,” Tiffany said. “Granted, you have to have exceptional players to execute game plans and we’re fortunate to have that. Shellenberger, just his vision, playing through checks and seeing through defenses.”
While the offensive assault certainly was the story of the game, there were still aspects Virginia needed to improve upon. Throughout the game, Virginia committed an uncharacteristic eight penalties, six of which occurred in the first half. The Crimson were consequently able to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ mistakes, scoring on five different man-up opportunities. Harvard used this advantage particularly in the fourth quarter, where it ultimately socred nine goals to make the final score closer than it actually was. Although Virginia’s offense was able to stay ahead of any problems this may have caused, the Cavaliers cannot afford to give away this many opportunities in the future.
This game featured an NCAA-record 50 faceoffs, and Virginia’s faceoff men were dealt a heavy task. LaSalla finished the day winning 20 of 31 faceoffs and scoring two goals while his counterpart, freshman midfielder Mac Eldridge, went 8-19. They committed a combined three penalties on faceoffs, but that is an expected result of the extra workload LaSalla and Eldridge took on.
The Cavaliers went into the fourth quarter up by a score of 23-12, and managed to withstand Harvard’s nine-goal period to hang on for the win. The Cavaliers pulled most of their starters, and graduate student midfielder Ricky Miezan had the opportunity to net his second goal of the season. Senior midfielder Peter Garno had the only other goal for Virginia in the fourth quarter, and it was his first of the year.
Overall, the Cavaliers continued to showcase how powerful their offense is, and Shellenberger’s versatility with the offensive pieces around him is proving to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Despite the competitive appearance of the final score, Harvard was no match for Virginia’s explosive offense, as the 20-8 halftime score would indicate.
Next up, Virginia will face its biggest challenge of the season so far when it travels down to Naples, Fla. for a neutral site game against No. 6 Ohio State. The game will take place Saturday, Feb. 25 from the Paradise Sports Complex and can be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus.