Previewing The 2021 NCAA Quarterfinals

(Photo Courtesy of Georgetown Athletics)

Eight teams enter the weekend, but once the sun sets on Sunday night only four will be left standing. It’s time for the quarterfinals and a ticket to Hartford (Conn.) to be part of lacrosse’s greatest stage is on the line.

And of the four contests this weekend, perhaps none presents as intriguing of a matchup as the game that kicks it all off – No. 4 Virginia vs No. 5 Georgetown.

The four-seeded Virginia Cavaliers are the most recent champions, winning the last tournament in 2019, and coming off a comeback win over Bryant in the first round. The Wahoos are led by redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger with 60 points off 25 goals and 35 assists but have received a sizable amount of production from veterans who were a part of that 2019 title run such as Matt Moore (27G/32A), Ian Laviano (20G/6A), and Dox Aitken (15G/4A). The same can be said on the defensive end, where Alex Rode made 18 saves against Bryant and, Cade Saustad gobbled up eight ground balls.

However, Virginia will need to improve their play on the back end, especially off-ball, if they want to take down the Hoyas on Saturday. Petey LaSalla will also likely have to step up at the faceoff dot. He has shown the ability in the past to be as good as anyone in the nation, especially when needed the most, but has struggled recently. LaSalla has gone a measly 18% combined in their last two games (Syracuse and Bryant). That won’t get it done against Georgetown’s James Reilly, who went 50% in the Hoyas’ 18-8 drubbing of Syracuse in the first round.

Saturday marks No. 5 Georgetown’s first Quarterfinal appearance since 2007 and the Hoyas are looking to make it back to the semifinals for the first time since 1999. Beyond Reilly’s success at the faceoff dot, it’ll be the Hoyas’ defense that helps lead them there. Georgetown boasts arguably the best defense in the nation with Gibson Smith highlighting a fierce close D unit while Zach Geddes and Will Godine lead an impressive rope unit, and Owen McElroy anchors things in cage with a 60% save percentage on the season. The Hoyas defense looked as suffocating as ever against Syracuse on Saturday.

Of course, Georgetown isn’t all defense. The Hoyas offense has been pretty strong as well this season with Tewarraton finalist Jake Carraway leading the way with 46 goals and 16 assists for 62 points. Freshman TJ Haley has dished out an impressive 47 assists and added five goals for 52 points. On top of that, the Hoyas midfield has continued to progress and showcase why they are one of the top units in the nation. Declan McDermott and Dylan Hess had monster games with five and four points each in the first round.

No. 1 North Carolina vs Rutgers

The North Carolina Tar Heels come into Saturday after taking care of Monmouth in the first round and have maybe the most firepower of any team in the nation. Tewarraton Finalist Chris Gray leads the way for the Carolina offense with 83 points off 46 goals and 37 assists while midfielder William Perry and attackman Nicky Solomon help form a more than solid supporting cast that is as deep as any. The Tar Heels will likely have Midfielders Tanner Cook and Connor McCarthy back on Saturday after neither played against Monmouth.

Outside of an offense that possesses firepower everywhere, the Tar Heels have one of the best one-two-punches at the faceoff dot with Andrew Tyeryar and Zac Tucci, a top-flight defenseman Will Bowen that wreaks havoc all over the field, and a freshman phenom in Collin Kreig in cage. And on top of that, North Carolina is one of the best riding teams in the nation. How well the Tar Heels matchup against the Scarlet Knights’ “NASCAR” offense is yet to be seen, but the Tar Heels have shown to have minimal weaknesses all season.

Rutgers is coming into the quarterfinals after serving up a 12-5 defeat of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Saturday to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 1990 and play in the tournament for the first time since 2004. The Scarlet Knights, which are highlighted by a high-powered offense, want to make this historic season last a little bit longer. The attack trio of Connor Kirst, Adam Charalambides, and Kieran Mullins is one of the oldest in the nation and has lit defense up this season. The unit combined for 12 points on Saturday. In addition, the Scarlet Knights have a strong crop of offensive and defensive midfielders like Brennan Kamish, David Sprock, and others who can ignite that lethal “NASCAR” pace.

While Colin Kirst made 17 saves and the close defense of Jean-Felix, Garrett Bullett, and Bobby Russo were able to balance out the faceoff woes against Lehigh, the question still remains if that will be the case for the Scarlet Knights this weekend against a much more powerful offense in North Carolina, which also has proven to be dominant at the faceoff dot all season long. Additionally, can they limit turnovers and how will they do against the Carolina ride? Those are the question we’ll get answered on Saturday.

No. 2 Duke vs Loyola

The Duke Blue Devils were the team of the 2010s and came into the first full season of the 2020s as the winners of the offseason after landing grad transfer Michael Sowers via the NCAA Transfer Portal. John Danowski and company have taken the hype and lived up to it, for the most part, this season. After taking down High Point 16-10 in the first round, the Blue Devils now face a hot Loyola Greyhounds team on their path to a possible 10th Championship Weekend appearance under Danowski.

Duke is highlighted by the attack of Michael Sowers, Joe Robertson, and freshman phenom Brennan O’Neill who have combined for 174 points thus far. Nakeie Montgomery and Owen Caputo led a fairly deep midfield and their defense is anchored by a veteran in Mike Adler while JT Giles-Harris and Kenny Brower highlight the close defense unit. Additionally, freshman Jake Naso has gone 64% at the faceoff dot and is coming off a 73% outing against High Point. In short, Duke may not appear to have many holes and may have an upper hand in many areas against Loyola. However, as usual, the Blue Devils did show some occasional struggles in the clearing game on Saturday and has frequently had problems guarding the transition this season. Can they tighten that up against Loyola?

Loyola may be coming into the weekend riding higher than any team in the nation. After a positive COVID-19 test forced them to forfeit the Patriot League title game, the Greyhounds were able to still celebrate after making the NCAA Tournament and getting the chance to continue their late-season hot streak. And they did just that, taking down Denver 14-13 in a first-round game that commenced with a save of a lifetime from Sam Shafer to give him a season-high 16 on the day.

Outside of the Shafer-anchored defense that also features strong pole play from Cam Wyers, John Railey, and Matt Hughes, and a good SSDM stable highlighted by Matt Higgins, the Greyhounds have relied heavily on the offensive production Aidan Olmstead, who had five goals against Denver, as well as midfielder Peter Swindell and attackman Kevin Lindley. Loyola has firepower for sure, but do they have enough of it to secure their first win over Duke since the first round of the 2016 tournament?

No. 3 Maryland vs No. 6 Notre Dame

While Georgetown-Virginia may be the most intriguing, matchup-wise, game of the quarterfinals round, Maryland-Notre Dame is certainly the most anticipated matchup this weekend. Maryland comes into this game undefeated and coming off a 17-11 first-round win over Vermont to kick off their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament as they look to get back to Championship Weekend after missing out for the first time in six seasons in 2019.

Tewaaraton finalist Jared Bernhardt is must-see TV. The Maryland attackman has been the leader of this Terrapins team all season and one of the reasons why many tune in to this squad. But beyond Bernhardt, Logan Wisnauskas, Kyle Long, and Bubba Fairman have been tremendous and this Maryland offense, overall, has continued to show each week how deep they truly are. And while their offense may be the ticket-seller, the Logan McNaney-anchored defense can be suffocating. The only real question is how will they guard this Notre Dame offense that has given defenses fits all season.

Notre Dame came into this season with what many have considered beig their best and deepest team in program history. With Pat Kavanagh putting up Sports Center Top 10 worthy plays each game to lead the Irish offense and an uber-talented midfield highlighted by Eric Dobson, Wheaton Jackoboice adding even more firepower to that end, the Irish have been able to string together some improbable runs this season. And their defense, anchored by Liam Entenemann, that features a close unit of Jack Kielty, Arden Cohen, Kyle Thornton can run with anyone and was crucial in their 10-8 win over Drexel on Saturday.

Kyle Gallagher and Charlie Leonard have provided an epic one-two punch at the faceoff dot and can likely give Maryland some trouble. However, the one weakness that the Irish will need to fix up against this Maryland team is the clearing game. They haven’t been solid in that department all season and it has led to them losing multiple leads in the second half this season. And that includes against Drexel, where they lost a 7-3 halftime lead and had to claw back for the win.

Full Quarterfinal Schedule

Saturday, May 22nd – Hempstead, N.Y. (Hofstra)

Noon: No. 5 Georgetown vs No. 4 Virginia

2:30pm: No. 1 North Carolina vs Rutgers

Sunday, May 23rd – South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame)

Noon: Loyola vs No. 2 Duke

2:30pm: No. 3 Maryland vs No. 6 Notre Dame

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