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Syracuse Lacrosse: Previewing Virginia

The #5 Virginia Cavaliers travel to the Carrier Dome on Sunday to face the #3 Syracuse Orange in SU's conference opener. Virginia's inexperienced defense will be tested by the Orange's stacked attack line as SU attempts to redeem itself after a 17-12 loss at UVA last year.

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Last season, UVA beat Syracuse 17-12. The Syracuse statistics from that game were abysmal. Virginia more than doubled up SU on groundballs. Syracuse allowed the Cavs 51 shots, 31 on goal, while only putting 17 of their own on net. Syracuse coughed up 12 turnovers including five failed clears. At the faceoff circle, Mick Parks took 24 of 31 draws. Still though, SU trailed by only three goals going into the fourth period.

This year both teams come into the game with 3-0 records. After taking down the Loyola Greyhounds by one goal, the Virginia Cavaliers beat the Drexel Dragons and then the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. While the Loyola win doesn't look as good right now, considering the Greyhounds are suddenly 2-2, it is a still a good win over a very good team.

Even with the loss of Mark Cockerton to graduation, Virginia still has a wealth of scorers at both the attack and midfield positions. The attack has three potent scorers including senior, Owen Van Arsdale. The Charlottesville, VA native has five goals and two assists this year. Van Arsdale's previous season high in goals is 11 as he is really known as an assist guy. Then there is James Pannell. The name should be familiar for two reasons. First, his older brother Rob Pannell won the Tewaaraton Trophy a few years back playing for the Cornell Big Red. Secondly, James burned Syracuse for seven goals in Virginia's 2014 win over Syracuse.Pannell loves to creep up to that wing position and fire a sidearm shot. He is an effective dodger from behind the net and he can snipe. Pannell has 50 career goals three games into his junior year, and this year has put up four goals and two assists. The Orange will also need to be mindful of the junior's ability on the ride as he had eight caused turnovers last season.

The youngest of the Cavaliers' attack trio is Ryan Lukacovic, the number 12 rated incoming freshman in 2014. The sophomore from Syosset, NY, started just one game last year but still managed ten goals and eight assists. In 2015 Lukacovic has six goals and four assists to start the season. His shot percentage is pretty good too, scoring on about 43% of all shots this year.

The Virginia shooters have been more than just average when it comes to accuracy this season. Greg Coholan leads his team with a .667 shot percentage, good enough for fifth in the country. The junior out of Rochester, NY, has eight goals through three games putting him five goals shy of his previous season high, and against Loyola he tallied a career high four goals and added an assist. The ACC named Coholan its Offensive Player of the Week following his five-point performance against Loyola. Fellow first liner Zed Williams came into UVA with big expectations as the number four incoming recruit in 2014. Williams' numbers in high school are nothing short of jaw dropping as he broke the national high school career records in goals (444) and points (729). Keep in mind he joined his high school's varsity squad in eighth grade...but still. The current UVA leader in points for this year is a member of the Seneca Tribe and hails from Irving, NY, just south of Buffalo. Zed has a .471 shot percentage and likes to shoot low-to-low, using his defender to screen the goalie. Ryan Tucker rounds out the first midfield crew. Selected as the fourth overall pick in this year's MLL Draft, granted his father is the head coach of the Boston Cannons, Tucker has a big shot. He has 73 points through his four years at Virginia. We may also see Tyler German play on that first midfield line in place of Coholan. Primarily a short stick defensive midfielder early on in his career, German broke out in his junior year totaling 12 goals and five assists.

Earlier in the year it was announced that former standout faceoff specialist Mick Parks was no longer enrolled at the University of Virginia. In his place the Cavs have been running two faceoff guys in an attempt to replace Parks. The problem is that when one has a good game the other has a bad game. Jeff Kratky has taken the majority of the battles but currently holds a .353 win percentage. Redshirt freshman Jason Murphy, a transfer from Ohio State, has gone 14-28. We should see both, but I don't expect Ben Williams will have much trouble.

With junior Tanner Scales out with a season ending injury, Scott McWilliams graduating, and Greg Danseglio transferring to Maryland, Virginia's defense lacks experience but has proven itself thus far. Virginia's first defender, and the man most likely to mark up with Syracuse's Kevin Rice, is former walk on Davi Sacco. In his first career start the Jamesville-DeWitt product held Nikko Pontrello of Loyola to just a goal and two assists and picked up the ACC Defensive Player of the Week. The number five incoming defenseman in the country, as rated by Inside Lacrosse, Logan Greco has picked up four groundballs and caused three turnovers in his three games at Virginia. Fellow freshman, and the third best-rated incoming defensemen, Scott Hooper, rounds out the group. The Virginia long poles lack speed and are not a big group, they can be muscled by stronger attackmen.

Matt Barrett ranks second in program history for saves by a freshman goalie at 149, but his statistics from 2014 are far from impressive. Last year Barrett gave up 11.40 goals per game, had a .467 save percentage, and made just 9.31 saves per game; those numbers left Barrett outside the top 40 in goalies in each category. As a freshman, Barrett was somewhat hit or miss. Against Syracuse last year Barrett stopped just five shots and gave up 12 goals. This year, however, Barrett has improved, making 12 saves in his first two games against Loyola and Drexel and allowing just five goals against Rutgers.

Syracuse hosts Virginia on Sunday at noon. The game can be seen on ESPNU and heard on WTKW 99.5 FM. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates throughout the game.