With two teams competing for the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Championship today, the main question that needs to be asked is, ‘What will it take for them to win?’ Since there are two teams, we’re asking this twice. Ryder Cochrane will take care of why Yale will win over HERE. But this article is all about why Virginia will be cutting the net off of the goals on Monday.
For UVA, it will start where every game starts: the faceoff. I personally hate giving too much emphasis on faceoffs as they’re just a single phase of the game. You can be terrible at faceoff as long as your defense and offense make up for it. But going against TD Ierlan is a different animal altogether. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell for sure how Petey LaSalla will handle Ierlan for sure. LaSalla is overall the 18th best faceoff specialist in the country in terms of raw percentage. But that’s only part of the equations. We know he’s good, but faceoffs always come down to the individual matchup. Sure, Irelan has one of the fastest clamps in the country, but he doesn’t win at the rate he does just because he’s faster. He adjusts, he knows how to counter, and can also grind out wins. For UVA, their strength is Ryan Conrad on the wings. If Ierlan is winning the clamp, he’ll usually win it to himself without the ground ball scrum. With no ground ball scrum, Conrad’s impact can be minimized. For UVA to win, it will start with LaSalla being able to win some clamps and create tie-ups. Fast Yale faceoff wins are not going to help.
Beyond faceoffs, you then look at the offense of the Cavaliers. John Danowski noted after their loss on Saturday that “UVA plays simply offensively. There’s nothing magical there. Three players (Aitken, Conrad, and Kraus) took 35 shot on cage. They play invert. You knew at halftime that we weren’t going to hold them to four total goals.” The Question for UVA will be if the same simplistic base will be enough to top Yale. The UVA game that makes me think they can is their game against Syracuse. Even though Yale’s Chris Fake and Cuse’s Nick Mellen are very different defenders, they are both still two of the beat cover defenders in the country. UVA’s cure for Mellen was aggressively attacking the crease from X with Kraus. Doing this early and often was causing pushes to be called, giving them man-up opportunities and also allowed their shooters to really go for it from the wing, which was lethal against Duke.
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The final component is of course defense. The most critical part of the defense, in terms of getting a win, will be continued great play of Alex Rode in goal. Great goalie play of course relies on your defense giving you the shots you want to see, but he still needs to make the saves he should be and a few he shouldn’t. They need to force Yale to be uncomfortable.
The biggest risks defensively for the Hoos are Jack Tigh and Matt Gaudet. That’s not to say Yale can’t beat you without these two, they can. But their presence will be making the defense be in positions you don’t want to be in. Tigh’s ability to shoot on the run from the outside has the potential to force the UVA defense to press further out if those shots start falling. The further they press out, the more the inside will open up for Gaudet. Gaudet is the sort of player the UVA will almost need to shut off with a short stick. Even then, there’s no promise they won’t get the ball to him. But the key to UVA’s winning on defense is going to be the mitigation of these two players. If they can play strong pressure on the outside with smart slides and doubles while not sacrificing their team for a constant presence inside, they should be OK. Yale’s going to score their goals. It’s UVA’s job to ensure that they are forced to take their time doing it and are not given easy opportunities.
So what does this all look like? If Virginia wins the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Championship on Monday, I don’t see it being a big win in terms of margin. They’re going to be in a battle for all sixty-plus minutes. It also means they did not give Yale early offense opportunities, and made them work their offense to get a goal or two. So if you had to put numbers behind it, I would say it would land right around 13-11. But this tournament being what it is, this game is probably going to overtime, so let’s make it 14-13 UVA. If they win.