Maryland Men’s Lacrosse No.3 NCAA Tournament Sneak Peek: National Championship vs. Fourth Virginia
14 weeks, 100 days, 2400 hours, 15 consecutive victories. One more to do.
Championship Monday is finally here and as the Maryland men’s lacrosse demonstrated throughout the playoffs, he’s not afraid of the moment. But neither does Virginia. The Cavaliers’ balance is particularly evident after their dismantling from seeded North Carolina.
For this year’s title game, two of the tournament’s so-called underdogs will face off in a contest that could give Maryland their perfect first season of the century or mark the start of a dynasty for Virginia.
Monday’s game will be televised on ESPN2 and is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
Virginia Cavaliers (13-4) (2-4 ACC)
Head Coach Lars Tiffany made the most of his five years with the men’s lacrosse program, consistently upholding the Cavaliers’ reputation as an eternal powerhouse. Tiffany helped guide the Cavaliers through several statistically effective campaigns before propelling Virginia to an NCAA title appearance in 2019.
In its first season, the Cavaliers finished No. 1 in the ACC and No. 3 nationally in goals per game (14.40), assists per game (9.13) and points per game (23 , 53). In 2018, Virginia was among the top ten in the country for assists, points per game and offensive points. Aside from a 13-9 title win over Yale, 2019 marked Virginia’s third consecutive year as the nation’s top running ball team (41.55 per game). The Cavaliers also tied a program record with 17 wins in 2019, once again ranking in the top ten in the nation in offensive points (14.10), assists per game (8.60) and points. per game (22.70).
In year five with Virginia and her fourth full season, Tiffany returns to the title game for the second time, this time with the lower-ranked team and the least advertised lacrosse program. Tiffany helped lead Virginia to a 10-game regular season, but the Cavaliers were fourth in the ACC. Virginia has gotten back into shape lately, showing off her length on the defensive end of the field and rounding off her impressive offense.
Players to watch
Connor Shellenberger, first-year forward, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, No. 1. The former No.1 rookie has enjoyed success in midfield and attacking as a dynamic goalscorer. Shellenberger leads the team in points with 33 goals and 40 assists. His exceptional dodge ability and dazzling shot showcase his offensive talent
Matt Moore, senior forward, 6ft 1m, 200lb, No.5. Moore helped lead the offense in 2019 and took control of the offensive end of the ball throughout Virginia’s playoff run. That year, he punctuated the attack with 46 goals and 43 assists. Now, although Shellenberger has played a bigger role, Moore is a valuable second option and a veteran leader with the second-highest points total on the list at 61 (29 goals, 32 assists). The arm injury he suffered in the tournament semi-final against North Carolina hampered his abilities late in the game and could be a cause for concern heading into the title game on Monday.
Petey LaSalla, junior face-off, 5-foot-7, 185 pounds, no.23. LaSalla was another key factor to much of Virginia’s dominance in 2019 and 2021. His freshman season in 2019 was one of the best ever for the program. He went 6-for-6 in overtime faceoffs, led the ACC with balls on the ground (216) and was number two in the ACC with a 0.587 win percentage.
LaSalla improved tremendously in his junior year with a 0.628 win percentage, 256 wins (best NCAA) and 126 rushes.
Defense of rangy. It took them a while, but the Cavaliers have become a remarkable defending team. They started their playoff defensive campaign with a clinic to send Georgetown, holding the Hoyas to just three points and their Tewaaraton Award finalist, forward Jake Carraway, to a single pass.
Georgetown head coach Kevin Warne drew a comparison to Jurassic Park when asked about defensive performance. Referring to defense as “a bunch of velociraptors running past the goal”.
Virginia’s lean defense continued to dominate against a more impressive attack from North Carolina, the country’s best offense in some ways. He silenced Tewaaraton finalist forward Chris Gray, allowing just three goals on 14 shots and helped ice the game into final possession. Their large, distant defenders obstruct passing lanes and impose incredibly difficult shots. With defenders as tall as 6-foot-7, it’ll be unlike anything Maryland has seen in quite some time.
Youth. While this team isn’t too far removed from 2019, they are nowhere near the same list. They bring back veterans from all positions, but still have athletes who have never been on a stage of this caliber. With veteran talent; Moore, LaSalla, goaltender Alex Rode and others, the inexperience might not be that big of a deal, especially with the renewed confidence that victory over the Tar Heels must have given the No.4-ranked team. .
Three things to watch out for
1. Will Virginia be able to stop Jared Bernhardt? After holding two of Tewaaraton’s top finalists for a total of three goals, Virginia will have a chance to challenge the crème de la crème at Bernhardt. Not only has he proven impossible to keep out of the conference, scoring at least five goals in every game so far, but he has done so against some of the nation’s best defenses, outfitted with game plans designed to slow down Tewaaraton’s favorite.
The bigger question for the title game will be whether Virginia’s long defense will be enough to force Bernhardt to at least flinch. Stopping Bernhardt is the first step in beating Maryland, but the Terps’ top scorer apparently has no interest in being stopped.
2. Who will lead the scoring effort for the Cavs? With the way Moore was significantly slowed down late in the game against North Carolina due to his arm injury, there is a very real possibility that Shellenberger will be asked to play a more compelling role again. If so, will that be enough to fight the Maryland defensive line? Who will help their scoring efforts? Can striker Payton Cormier continue his success in the semi-final?
3. Can the Terps continue to be successful in face-off X? Maryland were hardened by the relentless faceoff talent the Big Ten had to offer and, outside of the tough afternoon against Notre Dame, had great playoff success – in the NCAA tournament and Big Ten. FOGO specialist Justin Shockey will have to spend a huge afternoon against LaSalla and Maryland will have to be tough on the pitch as well. With the Cavaliers’ effectiveness in picking up balls from the ground, the Terps will have to fight for their possessions.