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No. 3 Virginia lacrosse throttles No. 8 Michigan, 19-11

Physical and bursting with talent, the Cavaliers sailed to a season-opening victory

<p>A group of Cavaliers celebrates after scoring one of their 19 goals.</p>

A group of Cavaliers celebrates after scoring one of their 19 goals.

Virginia men’s lacrosse dominated Klöckner Stadium Saturday in its season opener against Michigan. The No. 3 Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) controlled the game from the outset, smothering the No. 8 Wolverines (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten) and cruising to a 19-11 win. A boisterous first half unfolded before a packed stadium, but the atmosphere mellowed as the gulf in the scoreboard stretched wider. 

Virginia delivered unremitting physicality early, including two deft over-the-head checks from sophomore defender John Schroter. Junior midfielder Anthony Ghobriel, a Navy transfer, took the opening faceoff and bested Michigan’s senior forward Justin Wietfeldt, a second-team Preseason All-American. That trend persisted, with Ghobriel taking the bulk of the faceoffs and winning 15 of his 23 on the day. Graduate midfielder Thomas Colucci, a Colgate transfer, won six of eight. Senior midfielder Gable Braun, who missed the game with injury, figures to enter the faceoff conversation as soon as he returns.

Questions have abounded about the faceoff spot, where Virginia has confronted the near impossible task of replacing the graduated Petey LaSalla, the program’s career record holder for faceoff wins and ground balls. But Ghobriel and Colucci have provided an answer, at least for now.

More than six minutes elapsed before someone shattered the scoreless deadlock. Sophomore midfielder Joey Terenzi charged down the field and scored, starting Virginia’s scoring momentum that would last throughout the game.

Virginia stormed forward from Terenzi’s success, scoring the next two goals and leading 5-1 at the first quarter’s conclusion. The quarter also featured some animosity, with a tussle breaking out, sending sidelines lurching toward the field, but it came to nothing. 

Perhaps the added energy contributed to a dominant second quarter, in which Virginia stretched its lead to 10-3. Freshman attacker McCabe Millon registered two goals in the quarter, on his way to four first-half and five total goals. Millon, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, opened his scoring account midway through the first quarter before being slammed to the ground while rifling home his second goal. During the second quarter, the crowd broke into huge applause as he soared across the crease and scored his fourth goal.

The second half ended up being something of a formality. The third quarter produced a flurry of goals, with the teams combining for 12 scores and Virginia exiting the quarter ahead 17-8. Graduate attacker Payton Cormier scored three goals in the quarter and finished with five, putting him two goals away from breaking the program’s all-time record. Graduate midfielder Jack Boyden, a Tufts transfer, scored his first Division I goal midway through the quarter and finished with two goals and three assists. Graduate attacker Connor Shellenberger, who Coach Lars Tiffany has called the best player in college lacrosse, scored the second of his two goals during the third quarter as well.

While Michigan outscored Virginia in the fourth quarter, 3-2, it would end up meaning nothing at the end of the game — the Cavaliers had already built an insurmountable lead. Junior goalie Matthew Nunes underlined the defensive effort, reaching 13 saves. Tiffany expressed overall satisfaction with his cherished defense.

“Some good things on-ball,” Tiffany said. “Our off-ball play, we left No. 44, [graduate attacker Justin] Tiernan, open a little too much. Luckily Matt Nunes erased a lot of mistakes.”

But the most captivating moments arrived on the offensive end. The attack truly shone, as Virginia rejected any potential hiccups under new offensive coordinator and associate head coach Kevin Cassese. 

“We’re very lucky to have Kevin,” Tiffany said. “Kevin’s been a phenomenal offensive coordinator. And so what a first statement for him.”

Virginia’s ride also contributed to its success — Michigan went only 15 for 20 on clear attempts, while Virginia went 25 for 26. The Cavaliers simply hounded Michigan, both on the ride and defensively, jarring balls loose then turning around and executing commanding offense.

The Cavaliers will continue their winning campaign Saturday, traveling to No. 21 Richmond. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.

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