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No. 4 men’s lacrosse bulldozes Albany in second half after rocky start

Early unease faded into a rollicking second half

<p>Graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger dodges against an Albany defender.</p>

Graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger dodges against an Albany defender.

After a disjointed opening, No. 4 Virginia men's lacrosse (7-1, 0-0 ACC) emerged from halftime rejuvenated, dumping in nine third-quarter goals Tuesday at Klöckner Stadium and sailing to a 16-10 victory over Albany (2-5, 1-0 America East). The monstrous third quarter displayed all of Virginia’s trademark offensive power and cemented a pair of individual records.

Technical difficulties delayed the pregame playing of the national anthem, foreshadowing the game to come. Virginia suffered its own technical difficulties in the first half, especially in a scoreless first 10 minutes in which Albany mounted a shocking 3-0 lead. The Cavaliers, like the computer system, recovered, but Coach Lars Tiffany blamed his team’s mentality for the shaky start.

“We gotta be mentally tough,” Tiffany said. “We had a huge win over Maryland, certainly. We had a little bit of a hangover effect, a glaze, there. We gotta be better.”

Sophomore attackman Silas Richmond scored the Great Danes’ opening three goals, forecasting his later impact. He ended with seven goals, much to Tiffany’s annoyance. Graduate attackman Payton Cormier snapped the drought, however, by sniping the top corner of the net, and the quarter ended with Albany ahead 3-1. On the last official day of winter, Virginia still felt the chill of a scoring deficit needing to be overcome.

Things improved in the second quarter. The Cavaliers shut out the Danes and scored twice, knotting the game. But sloppiness still afflicted Virginia, still committing turnovers to hurt the offense. Albany freshman goalie Landon Whitney also made some excellent saves, at one point sprawling and kicking up dirt on a save.

“We played great defense. Our goalie played really well,” Albany Coach Scott Marr said. “And so did they, obviously, and again, I thought the second quarter they got to us defensively and pounced on our guys a little bit when we were trying to shoot.”

The scoreboard read 3-3 at halftime when the Cavaliers retreated to the locker room, an earth-shaking upset brewing. But in that room underneath the bleachers, the team reset its mentality going into the second half.

“There weren’t any big hype speeches,” graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger said. “Guys weren’t really yelling. We just got back to playing our standard.”

Virginia proceeded to erupt offensively in the second half, ripping off three goals in less than three minutes. Albany, on the other hand, scored only once in response. Then Virginia reeled off eight goals in a row, building a 14-4 lead and effectively ending the game. Cormier and freshman attackman McCabe Millon each scored three of those eight goals, part of their five goals each on the day.

Put together, from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the fourth, Virginia embarked on a 14-1 run. These quarters saw a monumental moment, when Shellenberger received a pass, made a sharp change of direction and fired the ball into the top corner. That quick goal delivered his 278th career point, giving Shellenberger the program record for career points, just over a week after he grabbed the program record for career assists.

“It blows me away,” Tiffany said. “People say pinch yourselves. I like to bite my lip. Wake yourself up. This is real. I’m here. I am experiencing Connor Shellenberger’s collegiate career.”

Tiffany made his own history Tuesday, notching his 200th career coaching victory. He has steadily marched toward the milestone all season but remains humble even after achieving it. 

“Nothing. It means nothing,” Tiffany said. “It’s just a number.”

Tiffany spent more time discussing Albany graduate midfielder Jake Piseno, an undersized but menacing player, whom he called possibly the best in college lacrosse. Piseno scored two goals, both, like most of Albany’s goals, arriving in the game’s closing minutes. The Danes scored six fourth-quarter goals, including the game’s last four, but they were mostly to cover up their sudden deficit after Virginia’s offensive explosion. 

Virginia played without its top faceoff man, junior Anthony Ghobriel, who Tiffany said is “day to day” with injury. Graduate students Thomas Colucci and Matt DeSouza went a combined 18-30 at the faceoff X. The faceoff success was unexpected, Tiffany said, without Ghobriel and against a faceoff man as sturdy as Albany’s.

The Cavaliers have mostly dominated their non-conference schedule, the only bump in the road being the Johns Hopkins loss. Only two non-conference games remain before arriving at ACC play. The competition will only increase, though Albany certainly provided a challenge.

“It was a weird night, for sure,” Shellenberger said. “Definitely came out a little slow, a lot of frustration in the first half. But it was cool to come out in the third quarter like that, and everyone came together.”

The Cavaliers will return Saturday to Klöckner to play against Drexel at 3 p.m. The game will air on ACC Network Extra.

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