Before Monday’s final game, our other LAS writer Ryder and I split up the last two teams standing to predict what it would take for each team to win. Fortunately for me, I had Virginia, so I walked through what I believed Virginia would need to do in order to be national champs (https://laxallstars.com/2019-ncaa-lacrosse-championship-why-virginia-wins/).
The highlights of what I saw as the keys for a Cavaliers’ title were:
- Stellar play of Alex Rode in goal
- Ability to slow down TD Ierlan on the faceoffs so they are not fast breaks
- Aggressively attacking from X and spreading around the shots
- Doubles and early slides to Yale’s outside shooters
- While pressing out on the shooters, always have an eye on Matt Gaudet
Fortunately for me, and even more so for Virginia, things followed that script perfectly.
The first quarter went exactly to plan. It wasn’t fancy, but their defense was able to put the clamps on Yale right away. No 10 goal opening quarter for the Bulldogs this time. They did it exactly how they needed to as well. Their faceoffs were tie ups, and required the wings to clear out the ground ball. They didn’t need to win every one of these, but preventing TD Ierlan from just clamping and going forward each time is the goal. Defensively, their slides to help or slides to double were nearly textbook. They were able to tie up hands on Yale and force them to throw the ball out of bounds as they searched for an outlet. The game was close (2-1 UVA), but that’s what UVA needed.
The second saw Yale score first, breaking a 16 minute drought, but even that was a little bit of a fluke. Due to a mess behind the cage, Matt Gaudet was able to essentially score an empty net goal. Hardly a 6v6 set. The first UVA goal of the second quarter was a dodge from X by Michael Kraus. They cleared out that side of the field, so there was no quick slide preventing him from getting his left arm fully extended for the shot. That was just enough to increase the angle to get to the far side of the cage. The quarter ended with another Kraus goal, a Dox Aitken Iso from the top and a Petey LaSalla faceoff goal. And honestly, that was the game right there. That four goal lead was one which UVA never gave up again as their control of the game never relinquished.
Going back to those five keys of the game, how did they do? Well, regarding Alex Rode, his 13 saves (62%), 3 ground balls, and 1 caused turnover were seen as worthy enough of earning the weekend’s Most Outstanding Player award. As for slowing down TD Ierlan, they did. The Hoos did not need to get above a certain percentage, which they definitely did not. Ierlan’s raw percentage was great. But he was not winning them himself off the clamp and starting a fast break. They were scrums and they turned into settled offense.
As far as aggressively attacking from X and spreading shots around, UVA scored six of their non-empty net goals by dodging from behind, good enough for half of them. It was never just the same player, either. They had three player all with seven shots a piece and Michael Kraus led with 10. Ryan Conrad, who led the team with 13 on Saturday had as many shots as Petey LaSalla (3).
For their defense, Rode’s save percentage was in no doubt due to their pressure on the outside. Midfielder Jack Tigh was the heaviest shooter for the Bulldogs, taking 11 and only connecting on 2. Yale needed him to be threat outside, but he was never able to consistently get clean look to be that threat. Without Tigh from up top, Gaudet was limited to just four shots with two goals inside. Sadly for Gaudet, he was also on the wrong end of viral hit that was making its rounds on social media. Those two players being out of rhythm was the litmus test for the whole offense. And it was failing that test. Even though I don’t think you can fail a litmus test, but you get the idea.
So while they things they had to do were not ground breaking in any way, they still had to do them. As Eamon McAnaney used to say when he had the main lacrosse broadcast duties: “THAT’S why they it execution.”. Because as any coach knows, all the planning, and all the practicing in the world means nothing if the players who are actually on the field can do what they need to do. Win the matchups, make the small plays, and make the big plays. Virginia did all those things and now have another golden trophy in their collection.