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Syracuse Lacrosse: Previewing the speedy Virginia Cavaliers

Syracuse and Virginia will take to the turf on Sunday at noon. This is a big, top ten matchup for both teams who will bring a fast paced style of play to the game.

2011 NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship - Championship Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Given what we have in store for this uptempo game on Sunday, the most recent edition of Inside Lacrosse Magazine is especially relevant.

The Syracuse Orange and Virginia Cavaliers have played in some thrillers, just look back to the 1997 game. These two programs have played 31 times in their histories with the first meeting in 1938. Since 2006, only once has either of these two teams failed to score fewer than 10 goals in this matchup.

We are talking about two traditionally fast teams, and that will be no exception in 2017, especially with Lars Tiffany on the Virginia sidelines. Tiffany’s teams have been known to be fast paced. In a 2015 article in Lacrosse Magazine by Matt DaSilva, Tiffany, a Lafayette, NY native, referred to his teams’ offensive style of play as “First Nations-Inspired lacrosse.”

If you’ve watched UVA this year, you probably have seen how many goals this team has scored in transition. However that pace goes both ways. Tiffany isn’t afraid of his team making mistakes or allowing opponents to push that same pace which can lead to a number of quality opportunities.

The Cavaliers are 4-1 on the season while the Orange are 2-1. SU and UVA have played, and beaten, one common opponent, Siena. @laxvegaslines has Virginia as a one goal favorite and the over/under set at 28. I’m picking Virginia and the under.


School: Virginia

Mascot: Cavaliers

Coach: Lars Tiffany

Location: Charlottesville, VA

Conference: ACC

Game Location: Carrier Dome

Game Time: NOONER!

Television/Radio: ACC Network Extra (ESPN3)/ TK99/105


All-Time Syracuse Record Vs. Opponent: 16-15

Previous Matchup: 14-13 Syracuse Win

Opponent Ranking: #9

Quick Facts

Record: 4-1

Conference Record: N/A

2016 Team Statistics

Total Goals– Shot Attempts: 82-247

Total Opponent Goals– Shot Attempts: 65-194

EMO Goals (Percentage): 10-19 (.526)

EMO Goals Against (Percentage): 6-15 (.400)

Team Shooting Percentage: .332

Opponent Shooting Percentage: .335

Shots on Goal Percentage: .587

Opponent Shots on Goal Percentage: .608

Groundballs: 244

Opponent Groundballs: 188

Turnovers: 96

Caused Turnovers: 55

Faceoffs: 97-166 (.584)

Clearing Percentage: 98-112 (.875)

Opponent Clearing Percentage: 94-120 (.783)

Penalties: 13:30 PIM


The Cavaliers are third in nation for assists per game, and their offense relies on a lot of quick ball movement. Syracuse will need to be ready with the quick slides. While this program has a bunch of shooters with big guns, one thing that is very noticeable is the poor shot selection. Against Penn, we saw UVA shooters put the ball right into Reed Junkin’s stick over and over. The Cavaliers’ take an average of 49.5 shots per game but have just a .587 shots on goal percentage. Compare that to UVA’s opponents who average a .608 shots on goal percentage. Opponent goalies have made an average 12.6 saves per game against UVA including 16 by Penn and an astounding 19 by High Point Panther Tim Troutner Jr.

Another thing to note is the attack’s ability to ride. Virginia’s opponents have failed to clear the ball 22.7% of the time.

Penn threw a lot of zone at UVA in the game on Saturday, really confusing the Virginia offense. However, against High Point, Virginia looked a lot better against the zone defense. It will be interesting to see if Syracuse changes up its defensive packages to try and confound the Cavs.

Zed Williams came to UVA as the number four incoming recruit in his class, as rated by Inside Lacrosse. His high school career was legendary, breaking Casey Powell’s New York high school point scoring record in just his junior year. As a freshman at UVA, Williams struggled to get out of the shadow of the high expectations that came with him to Charlottesville. He broke out in his sophomore year with 37 points but couldn’t match that in his junior year. So far, he has 25 points through five games in 2017, sitting seventh in the country in assists per game.

Man, watch out for Michael Kraus. Six of his seven points against High Point came in the first half. Kraus is just a freshman but has shown his worth thus far in the season, he will be a high impact player for years to come.

Joe French and Mike D’Amario have split time at attack this year. French started the first two games and the last game against High Point. Mike D’Amario has 14 goals and four assists this year.


The midfield is really where the magic happens. Tiffany’s guys have always played a two-way game, the issue with this is that it could create defensive mismatches if Syracuse can’t get its defensive midfield on the turf. The midfielders are really where the speed of Virginia’s game can be seen. They push the ball hard and can create significant transition opportunities, the heart of UVA’s offense.

Don’t think about the Virginia midfield crew in terms of lines, instead see them as more of a fluid group. Dox Aitken has only started two games this year but I would expect him to start on Sunday. He is another impact freshman for UVA and stands at 6’2”. Overall, the Haverford graduate has 16 goals and two assists through five games. Watch him around the net, one-on-one as he can effectively use his size to bully and back down defenders, but he also has a wicked shot. Aitken had a hat trick prior to the end of the first half against Penn on Saturday.

Ryan Conrad started UVA’s first four games, compiling eight points but did not start against High Point, a game where he had just one assist. He is traditionally more of a defensive midfielder, but as I’ve mentioned these guys go both ways.

Will McNamara is another defensive midfielder for UVA but Lars Tiffany has noted that McNamara is not just a one dimensional player. The redshirt senior was rated the number one incoming midfield recruit. He redshirted his freshman year after a hip injury and was not enrolled the year following for personal reasons, so he still has one more year of eligibility after this season. However, McNamara did not play against High Point, not sure if it’s an injury situation or not.

Ryan Lukacovic had a monster sophomore year in 2015 with 22 goals and 27 assists, career highs which he has been unable to match. He has been a longtime starter for UVA but so far he’s managed just seven goals and six assists through five games and four starts.

AJ Fish has two starts on the year including the last game versus High Point. The senior has five goals on only seven shots on net and has a pretty good outside shot.


Good news for Syracuse fans, Ben Williams should be back against Virginia. He will be facing off with primary Virginia faceoff guy Jason Murphy. The redshirt junior is a transfer from Ohio State and has a .611 faceoff winning percentage, good enough for 14th in the country. Backing him up is freshman Luke Brugel who has a .625 faceoff percentage. Expect UVA to throw both these guys at Williams. The Virginia wings include: Dave Smith, Cooper Fersen, and Jared Conners.

There are several reasons to keep an eye on the faceoffs on Sunday. Obviously, Virginia has shown to be a good faceoff team but the Cavs have played against only one faceoff guy who is ranked in the top 54 in faceoff winning percentage in the country. Second, Ben Williams will need to be monitored. In a article from Lindsay Kramer, Desko noted that the coaching staff is hoping the senior FOGO will be one hundred percent although he did say, “I don’t really want to use him if we feel he could get hurt again.”

The third thing to watch is the potential for instant offense. Penn had some success following the faceoffs, netting two goals right off of the draw including one from Luke Brugel. Williams is not known as a goal scorer, or quite frankly as a ball handler, but he does have one goal on the year and five since arriving at SU.


Given Tiffany’s coaching style, I expect the defense to extend and play the ball deep. The Cavaliers have worked hard to try and close up some of the interior holes on defense. However, UVA has given up an astounding 65 goals against, making the Hoos the 52 best scoring defense in the land by allowing 13 goals per game.

Captain Tanner Scales has been in Charlottesville since the fall of 2012. He is as close to a lock down guy as Virginia has and stands at 6’2” but can certainly move well. Scott Hooper had 23 caused turnovers in 2016 and currently is eighth in the country in caused turnovers with 11. The third defenseman is sophomore Zach Ambrosino who has seven groundballs and an assist on the year. Also watch for the 6’5” Cooper Fersen at the long-stick midfield position. It’s pretty much the same grouping we’ve seen before, a grouping that was never really elite.


Junior Will Railey is the man in the crease, but Tiffany has shown he is not afraid to go to his backup Griffin Thompson who has played sixty minutes on the year. With a .484 save percentage and a 11.98 goals against average, Railey’s stats are nothing to write home about. If I was able to give any advice to the Syracuse shooters it would be this: GO LOW, GO LOW, GO LOW!

The Syracuse Orange and Virginia Cavaliers will faceoff in the Carrier Dome at noon on Sunday. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard on TK99/105. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates.