CHARLOTTESVILLE – Virginia has nearly two weeks off before it will begin its quest for a third men’s lacrosse national championship in the past five years.
Coach Lars Tiffany said the team’s focus will be on getting rested and healthy for the postseason. With selection Sunday still a week away, one thing the Cavaliers won’t be worrying about is their seeding, they said.
“I fully believe that we can beat any team in the country on any given day, but however the rankings go out is how they go out,” sophomore goaltender Matthew Nunes said after the team wrapped up the regular season with an impressive 12-8 home win over then-No. 1 Notre Dame. “I don’t think we’re too pressed about how they end up, whether we’re one, two or three.”
The top three men’s lacrosse teams in the nation play in the ACC. There’s little question about that.
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The new Inside Lacrosse poll, released Monday morning, has conference champion Duke (12-2, 5-1 ACC) on top, followed by Virginia (11-3, 4-2), Notre Dame (9-2, 3-2) and then Johns Hopkins, of the Big Ten, at No. 4.
What order will the NCAA selection committee rank them next weekend? That’s a bit more of a head scratcher.
“That’s a really good question,” Tiffany said after Sunday’s win. “The selection committee, we’ve just made their jobs a little trickier, haven’t we? They’re going to have their hands full figuring this one out – who do they put one, who do they put two, and three? The three of us have certainly proven ourselves to be really, really strong teams this year but, yeah, it’s going to be tricky. We’ll find that out a week from today.”
Following its 12-8 win over then-No. 1 Notre Dame on Sunday, Virginia certainly has a case for the top spot. It’s beaten the Fighting Irish twice, home and away, and also owns victories against Johns Hopkins, Michigan, North Carolina and Syracuse, all currently ranked in the Top 20.
The problem for the Cavaliers is that two of its three losses came against Duke, another contender for the top spot, plus a home loss to Maryland, which has taken a small step back this season.
The Blue Devils, despite home and road wins over UVa, are not a shoe-in for No. 1 because they’ve lost at Notre Dame and – inexplicably – have an early season loss at Jacksonville. They have one final non-conference game Sunday at Merrimack.
All that could conceivably bring the committee back to Notre Dame, with its only resume blemishes being the pair of losses to Virginia. The Irish end the season Saturday at North Carolina, which could be playing for a spot in the tournament.
“That’s a toss-up,” senior attackman Xander Dickson said. “There are obviously three clear cut teams that I think are above the rest right now. No shade to Hopkins, Penn State, Maryland. They’re good teams but I think we’ve proven we’re the top three. It’s weird. We’ve struggled to beat Duke. They’ve struggled with us and Notre Dame takes over Duke every time. I’d like to say us but I’m not going to throw shade at those two programs. Everyone is playing elite lacrosse right now.”
One thing that doesn’t appear to be up for debate is the site of Virginia’s first round NCAA tournament game on May 13 or 14. The Cavaliers have essentially locked up playing one more home game this season at Klockner Stadium.
“It means everything,” Dickson said. “Last year, we didn’t get a home game and that hurt. Having it here now, playoffs, home, one more game for the fifth years, the seniors to come back here, it’s everything. It’s pretty emotional.”
Virginia is 12-2 in its last 14 NCAA tournament games in Charlottesville.
Most projections have UVa on track to play a quarterfinal in Annapolis, Md. if it wins its first round game. This year’s Final Four is in Philadelphia.
Mike Barber (804) 649-6546
@RTD_MikeBarber on Twitter