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2021 Men’s Lacrosse Championship Preview: UVA vs Maryland


(Matt Riley:Virginia Athletics)

(Matt Riley:Virginia Athletics)

2021 Men’s Lacrosse Championship Preview: UVA vs Maryland

Championship Monday has arrived. Memorial Day will mark the end of the 2021 college lacrosse season and what a season it has been. The landscape of college lacrosse has never looked more different than this year. COVID-19 changed everything, how we work, go to school, and for the first time in forever, there were no sports. College lacrosse was also subject to the stopping of all sports. As we entered the fall of 2020, The Ivy League made a huge decision to cancel all sports for the entire year. Because of this, you had guys like Michael Sowers transfer from Princeton to Duke and TD Ierlan, Jackson Morrill, and Lucas Cotler from Yale to Denver. Duke’s season would have been drastically different as Sowers came into the Blue Devils offense and took it over. The last time we crowed a champion in 2019, Virginia captured the victory over defending champion, Yale. Can Virginia defend their championship and end Maryland’s undefeated season or will the Terps capture their second title under Coach Tillman, we will find out on Monday.

Matchup History

This is a historic matchup in the sport of lacrosse. Maryland has dominated college lacrosse since the beginning of time and Virginia consistently competes every year for a championship. These two teams have 20 national championships combined, nine coming in the NCAA era. Maryland dominated this matchup early on but since 1980 Virginia has a record of 37-18 against the Terps. This will be the 93rd meeting between these two teams as Maryland holds a slight 47-45 record over Virginia. These two teams used to be very familiar with one another as they constantly battled in the ACC. However, in 2014, Maryland moved to the Big Ten the two teams went five years without playing one another. The two titans of lacrosse finally met again in 2019. It was only fitting they duked it out in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Matt Moore was the hero for the Cavaliers as he scored the overtime game-winner giving UVA the 13-12 victory over Maryland. UVA went on to capture the national championship that year.

Why Maryland

Offense: Maryland has the best player in the lacrosse and Tewaaraton favorite in Jared Bernhardt. Bernhardt has made easy work of every matchup in the tournament so far as he enters Championship Monday with 19 points. The craziest part is Bernhardt is shooting almost 60% in the tournament, in lacrosse you’re doing something right if you shot above 35%. Additionally, this Maryland offense has the best shot percentage in the country at 39.5%. Other than Bernhardt, look out for guys like Logan Wisnauskas, Anthony DeMaio, and Danny Maltz. In Maryland’s semifinal victory over Duke, they were just humming the ball around and Duke was helpless in trying to slow down this Terps offense. I was most impressed by Maryland’s settled offense; everyone can score in transition, but you need to produce in six on six sets and Maryland did just that. This Maryland team blitzed through the Big Ten all season on their way to securing the conference title and a bid to the tournament. I think the selection committee undervalued Maryland just a little coming into the tournament because of the lackluster defense played in the Big Ten. That was evident against Duke on Saturday as even with the best defender in the country in J.T Giles-Harris, the Blue Devils could not slow down this potent Maryland offense. Maryland’s attack with show up but midfielders Kyle Long and Bubba Fairman need to be huge for the Terps.

Defense: I did not know how good this Maryland defense until yesterday against Duke. They held Michael Sowers, Brennan O’Neill, Joe Robertson, and this high-powered offense to only five goals. They were suffocating from the jump as Nick Grill and Brett Makar held down the fort. Grill drew the assignment of the dynamic X attackman in Michael Sowers as Makar shut down star freshman Brennan O’Neill. Grill and Makar held the duo to only three goals. O’Neill and Sowers had lit up every defense they played all year until they ran into the Terps. Duke was also a top-ten scoring offense in the country averaging over 14 goals a game. I expected Makar to draw Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger and Grill to take the assignment of Matt Moore.  If Grill and Makar do to Shellenberger and Moore what they did to the Duke attack unit, Maryland should be on its way to a championship win.

Goalie: Sophomore net-minder Logan McNaney made 17 huge saves yesterday allowing only four goals. McNaney was a brick wall all day and was lights out from start to finish. Virginia started slow against UNC yesterday, but this UVA team has scored in bunches all season. Once they got settled, Virginia then started to pile on the goals and UNC goalie Colin Krieg just could not make saves against this team. If McNaney has the game he had against Duke, Maryland should be in the driver’s seat. But if McNaney has a slow start like Krieg it could get ugly for Maryland.

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Why Virginia

Offense: Connor Shellenberger is the future of college lacrosse. The redshirt freshman is the quarterback of this Virginia offense and had shown an elite ability to feed and score the ball. I like how Virginia and coach Lars Tiffany used Shellenberger yesterday against UNC. Matt Moore drew the attention of first-team All-American defenseman Will Bowen. With Bowen on Moore, Virginia had Shellenberger coming out of the box trying to get a short stick matchup. Now UNC had a pole on Shellenberger the whole game but when he dodged from the midfield position, he got a shorty switched on him several times. he made quick work of these easy matchups. I was shocked at how easy Connor just dissected the Tar Heel defense, a defense that has been great all season. It seemed every pass he threw was a no-look pass and the little look-off froze the Tar Heel defense just enough to where they were out of sorts. Shellenberger finished with two goals and four assists against the Heels. Matt Moore has been a staple in this Virginia offense, and I have no doubt he and Shellenberger will produce. But if Makar and Grill slow down this Virginia duo, where does the scoring come from, Dox Aitken? Payton Cormier? Ian Laviano?

Defense: Virginia’s defense starts at the midfield position with LSM Jared Conners and short stick defensive midfielder Grayson Sallade. Conners was named midfielder of the year, for a guy who plays LSM, that is impressive. Conners is also a threat on offense as throughout his career he has started fast-breaks and transition opportunities for this Virginia offense. Next, Grayson Sallade has blossomed into a really nice defensive midfielder. Sallade had a rough start to the season but he has proved that he can guard some of the nation’s top midfielders. Against UNC, Sallade was running up and down the field and got himself eight ground balls, ground balls turn into extra possessions and extra possessions win you the game. I expect Sallade to draw either Bubba Fairman or Anthony DeMaio and whichever one he does not pick up will be Conners’s assignment.

Goalie: I need to formally apologize to Virginia’s goalie Alex Rode. Every matchup of this tournament for Virginia I have called him the weak link to this team and on Saturday he shut me right up. Rode made 15 saves against UNC, he started a little slow but once he got in a groove it was poetry in motion. Rode and this Virginia defense held this Tar Heel offense to 11 goals, that might sound like a lot but that was the lowest goal total a team has held UNC all year. Rode needs to stand tall against Bernhardt and this Maryland offense.

Key to Winning for Both Teams

FACE-OFF WINS= POSSESSIONS. Ever since this tournament was created, the team that wins usually has a dominant FOGO (face-off get-off). If either team wants to win, they need to control the face-off dot. The key to closing out lacrosse games, especially in May, is dominating in the face-off and possession departments. How do you get extra possessions; you win face-offs. The edge in the face-off matchup goes to Virginia with FOGO Petey LaSalla. LaSalla has been solid all season, he has won the most face-offs in the country with 256 and wins about 63% of his draws which is top ten in the country. Against UNC and Zach Tucci, LaSalla won 15-27 draws and had a run in the second quarter where he locked in and won ten in a row.  As for Maryland, they will counter LaSalla with Justin Shockey. Shockey held his own against Duke’s Jake Naso and Dan O’Connell winning 11-21 draws. I expect LaSalla have a day, but if Maryland and Shockey can hold the Virginia FOGO to under 50%, they should be in good shape. Whoever wins the face-off battle will have the advantage in this game.

My Prediction

Maryland 14- Virginia 12. I picked both of these teams to advance to the championship and I could see either team taking home the title. I think Maryland has the best player in Jared Bernhardt, better defense than UVA and overall just a deeper team. I think UVA is very Connor Shellenbeger and Matt Moore reliant and if Maryland can slow those two guys down just a little, I just do not know who creates scoring opportunities for the Cavaliers. This is going to be a great game from start to finish. The matchup between UVA and Maryland to decide who is the champion of college lacrosse is on Monday at 1pm in Hartford, Connecticut.

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