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No. 2 men’s lacrosse opens ACC play with merry beatdown of North Carolina

Virginia handled business, in frolicking fashion, as tougher tests approach

<p>Virginia freshman attackman McCabe Millon dodges against North Carolina freshman defenseman Peter Thomann.</p>

Virginia freshman attackman McCabe Millon dodges against North Carolina freshman defenseman Peter Thomann.

Conference play arrived Saturday at Klöckner Stadium, and Virginia simply treated it like an early-season game against a non-conference opponent. The No. 2 Cavaliers (10-1, 1-0 ACC) blasted North Carolina (6-5, 0-1 ACC) from the first whistle, building a commanding lead and cruising to a 14-6 win.

“If you’re hesitant in ACC play, you’ll get bullied,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “And so you’re either being aggressive, or you’re not.”

Virginia was indeed being aggressive. Not since 2006 had Virginia beaten North Carolina by such a margin, though the Cavaliers have recently owned the series, winning six in a row against the Tar Heels. The game action settled into mundanity fairly quickly, but two notable bits of information emerged pregame. 

Junior faceoff man Anthony Ghobriel, the team’s top specialist, returned from injury after a three-game absence. But sophomore midfielder Joey Terenzi, a ferocious warrior on the wing, missed the game, his arm covered in a black brace. His injury status is “week-to-week,” according to Tiffany. 

Personnel fluctuation hardly seemed to matter, though. Junior midfielder Noah Chizmar replaced Terenzi on the wing, and on the game’s first play he raced around a defender and scored after just eleven seconds had elapsed. Fifty seconds later, the Tar Heels motored downfield and scored their own goal, and the game’s rhythm, it seemed, had been established. 

“We talked about it all week. Swing first,” graduate midfielder Jack Boyden, who finished with three points, said. “As you saw, Chiz there, 10 seconds into the game or whatever, taking it to the rack, really set the pace.”

The teams share a free-flowing, breakneck style, and the game’s early minutes possessed all the hallmarks of a characteristically whirlwind matchup. But then Virginia seized control, firing off five straight goals. It started with a feed from graduate attackman Payton Cormier to graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger, a dependable on-field connection, which gave Cormier career goal No. 200, pushing him to No. 7 on the Division I all-time scoring list. 

Virginia Athletics had staged a carnival for children in the athletic complex, and it seemed like the merriment had extended to the field. After graduate attackman Will Cory scored Virginia’s next goal, offensive coordinator Kevin Cassese lifted him into the air, like an offensive lineman picking up a quarterback in the endzone after a touchdown. 

A minute later, senior defenseman Cole Kastner pushed a ground ball around a defender like a hockey player, generating cheers from the teeming stands. Graduate defenseman Mitchell Whalen’s ensuing pole goal raised another round of celebration. Sophomore defenseman John Schroter celebrated with an airplane sprint along the sideline.

“Today was like, hey look, play loose,” Tiffany said. “You throw a ball away? No big deal. We’re all about turnovers. That’s ok. Have fun, be loose, and trust yourself and your teammates.”

The scoreboard read 6-1 at the first quarter’s conclusion, and on another blustery day before another packed crowd, Virginia seemed destined for another solid win. 

North Carolina steadied itself in the second quarter, getting outscored only 4-3. But Shellenberger dominated with his seemingly effortless prowess, scoring two goals in a 14-second period midway through the quarter and adding an assist five seconds before halftime. 

Tar Heel graduate attackman Logan McGovern, who led his team in scoring with three goals, scored at the beginning of the second half, but North Carolina could never generate any momentum. Virginia bridged the third and fourth quarters with an unhurried four-goal run, securing the eventual win. The game, once high-speed in play, settled into the plodding tempo of a blowout. 

Junior goalie Matt Nunes again buoyed Virginia, stopping 11 of 16 shots on goal. The Cavaliers also performed respectably at the faceoff dot, going 11-24 against the nation’s third-best faceoff unit. Ghobriel went 6-14 in his return, graduate student Thomas Colucci went 5-8 and graduate student Matthew DeSouza went 0-2.

The Cavaliers may have lost slightly on faceoffs, but they did win the battle of the freshmen. Attackmen Owen Duffy and Dominic Pietramala are the Tar Heel equivalent of attackman McCabe Millon — dazzling freshmen attackers. While the two Tar Heels combined for four points, Millon got four on his own.

Tiffany praised Kastner for shutting down Duffy and applauded his short-stick defensive midfielders for cutting off North Carolina’s offense. Kastner praised the scout-team offense for simulating Duffy. It seemed, overall, simply like a collective effort.

“We were just really clear on the game plan,” Kastner said. “I think we just feel confident in our guys on our defensive end.”

In a loaded, lofty ACC, North Carolina represents the cellar — the Tar Heels have suffered a couple of ignominious losses this season and are unranked. Meanwhile their conference brethren occupy the top four spots in the national rankings, so this game always looked like a possible pushover, just not on the scale of a 14-6 blowout. North Carolina has flashed potential, notably by nearly dethroning No. 5 Army last week, but Virginia looks, with its dismantling of the Tar Heels, to be peaking at precisely the correct time.

The taxing ACC schedule continues April 14, when Virginia will confront No. 3 Duke at 2 p.m. in Durham, N.C. The game will air on ACC Network.


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