After defeating Michigan Saturday, Virginia men’s lacrosse will return to Klöckner Stadium to take on visiting Harvard in the Cavaliers’ (1-0, 0-0 ACC) second game of the season. Last week’s contest against the Wolverines was not necessarily as smooth as expected, with Virginia pulling away late to secure a 17-13 win at home.
Stanford graduate transfer midfielder Ricky Miezan scored on his first touch, fellow graduate transfer midfielder Thomas McConvey tallied six points in his Cavalier debut and junior attacker Connor Shellenberger notched three goals. Although the squad was expected to be explosive offensively, the first result bodes well for success throughout the rest of the season. Now, with the rust of the first game in the rearview mirror, the Cavaliers will face off against the No. 17 Crimson (0-0, 0-0 Ivy) — a young and talented roster that made the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
This non-conference matchup is key for both teams, and the players and storylines below may decide the game.
Virginia should hold court from the face-off X
Virginia holds a significant advantage over Harvard with its face-off personnel. Graduate midfielder Petey LaSalla is the Cavaliers’ all-time face-off wins leader, holds the record for most ground balls and has hovered around 60 percent in terms of face-off win percentage over his past four years in Charlottesville. A two-goal performance against Michigan highlighted LaSalla’s ability to score off the face-off, as he proved to be more than just a specialist.
Despite boasting a balanced offensive attack, Harvard does not possess Virginia’s face-off experience and depth. Their two leaders from the X last season — midfielder Steven Cuccurullo at 42 percent and midfielder Kyle Massimilian at 37 percent — cycled between each other in 2022 and have since graduated. Now, the responsibility will likely fall to sophomore midfielder Andrew DeGennaro - who won 32 percent of his face-off attempts last season as the third option for the Crimson. Four-star freshman face-off specialist Matthew Baccaro might also take some runs in Harvard’s first game.
The combination of LaSalla and five-star freshman midfielder Mac Eldridge — the latter of whom went 4-for-7 Saturday — will be difficult for Harvard to contain.
The battle between youth and experience
The Cavaliers have serious depth at every position. Excluding the attack position, seniors and graduate transfers make up the majority of each starting group. After Miezan and McConvey’s moves to Charlottesville, six graduate students and 14 seniors now populate the roster. Playing significant minutes for Virginia lacrosse as a true freshman is rare, and the Cavaliers may only see two or three rookies take the field this spring in bigger ACC and non-conference matchups. The bevy of depth, leadership and experience has allowed Coach Lars Tiffany’s team to enjoy so much success over the past few seasons, and that strategy has never been more prevalent than in 2023.
However, the Crimson can point to a different story about experience. In 2022, five of Harvard’s top eight scorers were freshmen, including a 46-point campaign from Baltimore, Md. native Sam King. With graduate transfers not permitted due to Ivy League rules, the Crimson have had to build from within and rely heavily on their newcomers. All of the key offensive pieces have returned for Coach Gerry Byrne to create a potent attack. Meanwhile, junior long-stick midfielder Greg Campisi and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Chase Yager have found themselves on the preseason all-American list.
After an 8-5 campaign in 2022, the Crimson have retained the majority of their talent while adding several five and four-stars in the offseason. A battle between the Cavaliers’ experience and Harvard’s youth will be on display Saturday.
Players to Watch:
Virginia graduate student midfielder Thomas McConvey
McConvey’s size at 6-foot-4 allows him to draw attention off the dodge, while his experience with box lacrosse contributes to his smooth hands around the cage. With a sixty-goal campaign at Vermont and a three-goal game against Michigan already under his belt, McConvey will look to continue his momentum against Harvard.
Coach Tiffany made a great call going after McConvey in the off-season. The Canadian and former America East Offensive Player of the Year has extensive ties to Virginia senior attacker Payton Cormier, having played box lacrosse together for years in Ontario. The connection between the two was apparent Saturday, with a give-and-go from Cormier to McConvey putting Virginia on the board first.
Harvard junior long-stick midfielder Greg Campisi
Games are often won at midfield. Campisi thrives in this territory, wreaking havoc after face-offs and pushing the pace in transition. The 2022 All-Ivy first-team selection could potentially take on a larger role this season with the face-off X in question, so do not be surprised if Coach Byrne brings Campisi out if things go south.
The Long Island native collected 46 ground balls and caused 14 turnovers in Harvard’s surprising 2022 campaign. Even if LaSalla and Eldridge win the majority of the draws on Saturday, they will need to stay vigilant for Campisi coming off of the wings.
The non-conference slate is beginning to ramp up for the Cavaliers. A date with Harvard will reveal more about this uber-talented Virginia team in their second contest of the season. Face-off is set for 4 p.m. Saturday in Charlottesville, and the game will be televised on ACC Network Extra.