CHARLOTTESVILLE – Following his team’s first defeat of the season, an overtime loss to Maryland on March 18, Virginia lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany noticed something different about his team in practice.
“‘We’re irritable aren’t we?’” Tiffany told his team that week. “‘And that’s not a bad thing. We hate losing. We’re kind of getting underneath each other’s skin in practice. But that’s ok.’ And then we went out and played really well against Notre Dame.”
After last Friday night’s rain-drenched 16-14 setback against rival Duke, the No. 3 Cavaliers (7-2, 1-1 ACC) have brought a similar ticked-off approach to this week’s preparation for Friday’s upcoming game at No. 10 North Carolina (7-3, 1-1).
“Guys were definitely angry,” senior attackman Xander Dickson said. “Same thing as Maryland. We came back the week after, had a good week of practice. Little bit of venom out there. Guys are upset. Guys are ready to get back out there.”
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UVa hasn’t lost back-to-back games since falling to Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame in a pair of overtime outings in 2017. Since then, the Cavaliers have gone a staggering 19-0 following a loss, including the road win at then-No. 1 Notre Dame last month.
The last time Virginia lost to ACC opponents in consecutive games was in 2016, when it fell at North Carolina, then lost at home to Duke a week later.
Friday’s game at North Carolina, which the Cavaliers have beaten in the past four meetings, will be UVa’s fourth straight top-10 matchup. Maryland was ranked No. 3 when it beat Virginia 14-13 in overtime. The Cavaliers rebounded with their 15-10 road victory over Notre Dame.
Duke was No. 4 – and Virginia No. 1 – when the Blue Devils won in Charlottesville last Friday.
Through that trying and tumultuous stretch, Tiffany said senior Petey LaSalla has further established himself as one of the nation’s best faceoff men, sophomore goaltender Matthew Nunes has gotten on a roll, and the entire roster has proven its resilience.
“We certainly have one of the best faceoff men in the country, because he went against some of the best there,” Tiffany said. “I learned that Matt Nunes is getting into a good rhythm. I know he thinks he can still play better but he’s making enough saves for us to win, that’s for sure. And I know I’ve got a group of men who are embracing our motto – race to improve. We’ve learned a lot from these three games.”
For Nunes, the experience of facing different styles of offenses during that stretch, he said, can only help him moving forward.
“I think we’ve played a bunch of the top teams in the country,” Nunes said. “Coach Tiffany does a great job making a super challenging schedule for us. I think it’s going to pay off later in the season. We’re just taking our bruises right now. We’ll keep improving and it’ll help us in the future.”
The matchup with the Tar Heels is also a showdown between two of the nation’s top offenses. UVa is scoring 18.1 goals per game, the most in Division I. UNC is third at 16.1 (Notre Dame is second at 16.4, Duke fourth at 15.6).
Carolina also ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 8.5 goals per game.
“It’s another ACC opponent. It’s all about ACC play for us right, winning every game,” Dickson said. “They’re a really good team. Statistically, they’re a really good defense.”
Mike Barber (804) 649-6546
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