Following a 18-13 win against Johns Hopkins Tuesday, No. 1 Virginia men’s lacrosse returned to Charlottesville for another non-conference matchup against Towson Saturday. The Cavaliers (6-0, 0-0 ACC) — once again without injured senior attacker Payton Cormier — battled through a strong first half from the Tigers (1-5, 0-0 CAA) to seal a 19-12 victory. Junior attacker Connor Shellenberger starred with four goals and six assists.
Towson wasted no time on the offensive end after a fast-break goal put them on the board, which marked the first time that the Cavaliers had trailed all season. Junior goalie Evan Long denied Virginia’s first three attempts, yet a goal from junior attacker and Cormier’s replacement Patrick McIntosh evened the score.
Even after six caused turnovers from the Cavaliers, senior attacker Nick DeMaio blew one by sophomore goalie Matthew Nunes to put the Tigers up 2-1. Long had a fantastic game, saving six more shots by the 4:06 mark. Virginia stopped the temporary bleeding, however, with a quick catch and finish from graduate student midfielder Thomas McConvey.
Two more goals in the span of a minute gave the Cavaliers a 4-2 lead. The first quarter witnessed strong defensive efforts from both teams, with ten saves from Long and three turnovers caused by Virginia senior defender Cade Saustad.
Only ten seconds into the second quarter, Towson’s sophomore faceoff specialist Matt Constantinides converted a face-off win into a sidearm goal. The Cavaliers and Tigers then traded goals to come to a 5-4 Cavalier lead.
Graduate student midfielder Jeff Conner broke the ice with a blow-by goal, stretching Virginia’s advantage to two. Despite an a goal from Towson, Virginia stood strong on man-down and witnessed two beautiful goals from senior attacker Xander Dickson. His second was especially impressive, being a low behind-the-back shot that snuck by Long.
Shellenberger made the Tigers pay in transition, yet a goal with five seconds left brought Virginia’s lead to 9-6.
Just over two minutes into the third quarter, Towson cashed in again. Virginia then suffered their second penalty of the day, and the Tigers narrowed the gap to 9-8 with 11:19 to go. With the momentum shifting, McConvey and Shellenberger scored on back-to-back possessions to push the lead back to three.
Shellenberger contributed to the Cavaliers’ next two goals — for a total of five straight — including a crucial ground ball which led to a McIntosh score. Carrying a 14-8 lead into the fourth quarter, Virginia had finally found some breathing room.
The Tigers kept close, scoring three goals to the Cavaliers’ two with just over ten minutes to play. McConvey then notched his third of the day, giving Virginia a 17-11 lead and some time to cycle in the rest of the roster. Thanks in part to a full-field goal from graduate student midfielder Evan Zinn, the Cavaliers cemented a 19-12 win to move to 6-0.
“[We’re] certainly really excited to see Connor Shellenberger explode the way he did,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “He hasn’t been scoring a lot of goals for us, but he hasn’t needed to. He recognized as the game progressed, we needed him to go to the goal.”
It was not as pretty offensively, yet Virginia once again found their groove without Cormier. Shellenberger put together arguably his best performance of the season, while senior midfielder Peter Garno put together a shooting showcase with two outside goals. Both Garno and McIntosh have stepped up in a big way after the injury to the Cavaliers’ top scorer, giving reason to believe that the offense can maintain its efficiency against No. 4 Maryland, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 5 Duke. The level of competition will certainly increase, but given that the Cavaliers have not scored fewer than 17 goals all season, the offense seems to be able to manage even without Cormier.
The defense made life incredibly difficult for the Tigers with 14 caused turnovers. Nunes rallied from a saveless first quarter and ended with nine stops, and Saustad replicated his performance against Ohio State two Saturdays ago. A win before a three-game gauntlet against three top-ten teams was crucial for the Cavaliers.
Virginia will now look for revenge against Maryland (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten), who defeated the Cavaliers both in the regular season and NCAA Tournament last year. The two schools have accounted for the last three NCAA titles and have stood atop the polls for the last 22 weeks of college lacrosse.
The battle of ranked teams will take place in Charlottesville on Saturday. Face-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.