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'Quirky' Alex Rode leads No. 5 UVA lacrosse into matchup with No. 13 Richmond

'Quirky' Alex Rode leads No. 5 UVA lacrosse into matchup with No. 13 Richmond

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Virginia senior goaltender Alex Rode had to miss a pair of early-season games while in coronavirus-related quarantine, the Cavaliers weren’t just without one of the nation’s most experienced and established cage-minders.

They were also down arguably the team’s most unusual personality.

“He’s as quirky as they come, off the field,” said UVA coach Lars Tiffany this week, as his fifth-ranked team prepared to host No. 13 Richmond on Saturday. “He’s the stereotype of what you’d think a goalie in lacrosse would be like. He fits that stereotype and exaggerates it by five.”

After keeping mostly quiet and to himself his first year-and-a-half at UVA, Rode came out of his shell, sharing his opinions, his experiences and his humor.

He’s unafraid to share even embarrassing tales and facts about himself, and he generally punctuates those anecdotes by chuckling to himself with what Tiffany described as “his distinctive laugh.”

But as unusual and outspoken as the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Maryland native might be off the field, on the turf, he’s locked in, “razor-focused,” Tiffany said.

“He’s all in, and I love it,” the coach said.

Rode missed the team’s wins over Army and Loyola. Freshman Bobby Gavin filled in for those dates. Rode was “dormant” during his quarantine, unable to practice or even work out.

“It was hard, but it’s all relative,” Rode said. “These are hard times for everyone in this country, and missing a couple lacrosse games isn’t the end of the world in the grand scheme of things.”

When he came back, he didn’t have the smoothest return. Rode gave up 20 goals on 55 shots in a blowout loss at Syracuse, 20-10, on Feb. 27.

But beginning with the second half of that game, Rode has started to regain the form he showed in the abbreviated 2020 season, when he led the ACC averaging 13.2 saves per game and ranked second in the conference with a .552 save percentage.

“I think he’s playing at a 7 or 8 out of 10,” Tiffany said. “And we have a ton of confidence in him.”

Rode is the fourth-winningest goalie in UVA program history with 32 victories. He hopes to add to that total Saturday.

Virginia (7-2) is 6-0 all-time against Richmond, having met six times in the past seven years. The Spiders (4-3) launched their program in 2014.

Led by sophomore attackman Dalton Young, the Spiders average 12.9 goals per game. The 6-foot, 200-pound Chantilly native scored three goals against North Carolina earlier this season and averages 3 per game.

“I think he’s the hardest charging attackman we’ve seen this year,” Tiffany said. “He is going to the rack and with as much steam as we’ve seen.”

Richmond’s offense comes in on a roll, averaging 19 goals per game in its last three outings, wins over VMI, Bellarmine and High Point that came by a combined tally of 57-21. Of course, the Spiders’ attack has been less potent in its two previous ACC matches.

They lost 14-9 to North Carolina in February and 13-6 to Duke in March, both times at Robins Stadium.

Tiffany called Richmond the ACC’s unofficial sixth team and said the emergence of the Spiders’ program has been “a thorn in our side” and a “wonderful” source of regional competition.

“They make you sharper as a defensive coach, because of the multiple ways they attack you,” Tiffany saud. “They really challenge the way you do your business.”

That’s why Tiffany is glad Rode is all business on the field — even if he’s a bit quirky off it.

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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