Fall Snapshot: Virginia Cavaliers

(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Lars Tiffany (Seventh Year, 2017-Current)

Virginia 2022 Record: 12-4 (5-1 ACC)

Key Departures: Matt Moore (A)

Key Returners: Connor Shellenberger (A), Payton Cormier (A), Xander Dickson (M), Petey LaSalla (FO), Cole Kastner (D), Cade Saustad (D), Matthew Nunes (G),

Transfer Additions: Thoms McConvey (M, Vermont), Griffin Kology (D, Richmond)

While Virginia was unable to three-peat as national champions, it was still the Cavaliers who were the best team in the ACC. After all, they were the only ACC team to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Cavaliers fell four times in 2022. Two of those losses came against the eventual undefeated national champion Maryland Terrapins, including a season-ending NCAA Quarterfinals loss in Columbus, Ohio. The other two losses came against Duke, whom the Cavaliers haven’t beaten in the regular season since 2004, and Richmond. The loss against the Spiders marked the first time a team in the Commonwealth had beaten Virginia since Washington & Lee in 1977.

Virginia was one of the best teams in college lacrosse last season, but like everyone else, they weren’t Maryland and couldn’t beat them either. Now heading into the 2023 season, much is the same for Lars Tiffany’s squad with almost all of its production back, plus multiple impact transfers and a highly regarded freshman class. The Cavaliers will be looking to make it back to Championship Weekend for the third time in in the Tiffany era, and have the talent to do so.

Burning Questions

Who Replaces Matt Moore?

Virginia returns a lot from an offense that averaged 15.50 goals per game as the third-ranked scoring offense in DI. Attackmen Connor Shellenberger (32G/44A) and Payton Cormier (50G/10A) return a combined 139 points and 82 goals alone as the team’s top returning point-getters. In all, Virginia will see over 80% of its offensive production return. But that doesn’t mean this offense is without its holes.

The biggest of those holes is at attack where they must replace five-year starter Matt Moore. Sharing quarterback duties with Shellenberger last spring, Moore had 26 goals and 26 assists in the 13 games in which he played. With a player as impactful and versatile as Moore exiting the program, it leaves a definite hole in the Cavaliers offense that will be tough to fill.

During the three games in which Moore was out last season, a combination of Griffin Schutz and Xander Dickson got the opportunity to start at attack. Schutz got the start at attack against North Carolina in early April while Dickson did so against both Towson and Quinnipiac. Schutz ended his freshman season with 23 goals and seven assists for 30 points. Dickson was the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 31 goals and eight assists. Whether it will be one of those two aforementioned players or someone else, finding a player to work as that second quarterback or initiator at attack will be important for this offense.

Can The Virginia Defense Up its Consistency and Depth?

The Virginia defense is seeping with talent. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Cole Kastner (29GB/32CT) averaged 2.0 caused turnovers per game and ended with the ninth most of any defenseman in DI. Cade Saustad (27GB/17CT) and Quentin Matusi (28GB/12CT) were also full-time starters at close and continued to be impact playmakers on the back end. Grayson Sallade (29GB/8CT) was once again a strong asset at the SSDM spot and goalie Matthew Nunes (159 saves, 49.8%) took on the ardous task of replacing a four-year starter in Alex Rode as a freshman.

In its two games against North Carolina, Virginia held the Tar Heels to a combined two second-half goals. They also held Notre Dame to one goal in each of the first two quarters and were the only team other than Maryland to hold the Irish o single digits all season. Virginia also held Johns Hopkins to one goal in the first half en route to its blowout win over the Blue Jays.Simply put, Virginia had some really good defensive performances last season. But they were also inconsistent on that end, as well. They lost 17-13 to Richmond and 17-8 against Duke.

Virginia finished the season allowing 15 goals per game. And even if you remove the two Maryland losses (23-12, 18-9), the Cavaliers allowed 14.7 goals per game. Having guys banged up, plus a freshman goalie still trying to find his bearings in certain situations played a part in the inconsistencies. But this unit has to find a way to be more consistent and that involves getting deeper and utilizing that depth.

What Will The Transfer Impact Be?

Since the implementation of the transfer portal in the fall of 2018 and especially since the advent of fifth-year players over the past few seasons, Virginia has been the one ACC team that hasn’t gone heavy in that market. They had one grad transfer, Charlie Bertrand, on its 2021 national title team and took one transfer, Evan Zinn, ahead of last season. This past summer, the Cavaliers added two players via the transfer portal in midfielder Thomas McConvey from Vermont and defenseman Griffin Kology from Richmond.

McConvey comes in as a grad transfer following a career at Vermont in which he helped lead the Catamounts to back-to-back America East titles and NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons. He put up a program-record 60 goals and dished out 14 assists this past season. McConvey could very well slide into that first midfield line and not only provide more depth to a position that needs it, but also be that uber productive midfielder this team needs. Kology arrives at Virginia after a standout freshman season at Richmond, where he grabbed 21 ground balls and caused 21 caused turnovers while helping the Spiders to a SoCon Championship and NCAA Tournament berth. He joins a defense that returns each of its top poles from a season ago in Cole Kastner, Cade Saustad, and Quentin Matusi all return.

Both McConvey and Kology are talented additions to what is already one of the most talented teams in college lacrosse. Now in Charlottesville, what exactly will their impact look like and can it make this team even more of a Championship Weekend contender?

Potential Breakout Player

Ben Wayer, LSM, Junior

One of multiple players who got runs at LSM, Wayer played in 11 of 16 games last season. He caused nine caused turnovers, grabbed 15 ground balls, and had two goals. After being the rotation in 2022 as the Cavaliers tried to shore up the LSM spot following Jared Conners graduation, Wayer could very well take another big step in 2023.

Freshman Class

Virginia brings in the top-rated freshman class, per Inside Lacrosse. The class features four players who are rated as five-star recruits, according to IL, in midfielder Joey Terenzi (Manhasset, N.Y.), attackman Truitt Sutherland (Calvert Hall, Md.), defenseman John Schroter (Riverside, Va.), and faceoff man Mac Eldridge (Georgetown Prep, Md.). Expect multiple freshman to be vying for playing time immediately.

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