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2019 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship Weekend Preview: What you need to know

We’ll be crowning a champion (three actually) this weekend.

Matt Dewkett

After a wild quarterfinal weekend with three overtime games, we only three more men’s Division I lacrosse games left to play. And they’ll all be held in the cheesesteak capital of the world, Philadelphia.

Safe and I will be down for the grand finale of the college lacrosse season (I might be doing other things as well). Four great teams, three more games, two winners on Saturday, one national champion. And you can catch all the action on ESPN2!

We’ll have individual team previews as well as matchup previews based on the schedule of the semifinals.

#3 Virginia vs. #2 Duke (Noon)

TEAM PREVIEW: VIRGINIA

Head Coach: Lars Tiffany (3rd season)
Assistant Coaches: Sean Kirwan, Kip Turner, Bo Lori (Volunteer)

Probable Lineup

Attack: Michael Kraus, Ian Laviano, Matt Moore
1st Midfield: Jeff Connor, Dox Aitken, Ryan Conrad
Other Offensive Midfielders: Xander Dickson, Jack Simmons, Ryan Lamb, Mikey Herring, Jack Peele
Close Defense: Cade Saustad, Kyle Kology, Logan Greco
Goaltender: Alex Rode
Primary Faceoff: Petey LaSalla (FOGO), Ryan Conrad, Jared Conners (wings)
Defensive Midfield: Jared Conners, Will Rock (LSM), Matt Dziama, John Fox, Dave Smith, Cory Harris (SSDM)
Others To Know: Justin Schwenk (FOGO), Griffin Spolansky (Defense), Theo Dol (Defense), Patrick Burkinshaw (Goalie)

This is Virginia’s first Championship Weekend appearance since 2011 when they won it all. It’s been an up-and-down decade with Dom Starsia out, Lars Tiffany in, and plenty of first round exits, missed tournaments, and an ACC conference losing streak. But the Cavaliers have put in the hard work on an especially off the field with their still-in-progress culture.

Virginia has two 40-goal scorers in Ian Laviano (46) and Matt Moore (40) with Dox Aitken (39) right behind. Moore is the only player with at least 40 assists and leads the team with 80 points. Michael Kraus (67) and Laviano (57) have over 50, while Aitken and Ryan Conrad (46) have over 40.

Outside of their offense, Alex Rode is having a much better season than in his freshman year with a 10.31 goals against average and a 48.8% save percentage, which is slightly below his percentage from 2018. Virginia’s defense has helped him a ton, but especially their riding unit. Per Virginia’s SID, the Cavaliers are the unofficial top riding group in the country and swarmed Maryland at times in their quarterfinal matchup last weekend.

FOGO Petey LaSalla has been one of the best freshmen this year with a 60.4% faceoff percentage. On the media conference call, Tiffany saw some similarities between LaSalla and former Brown FOGO Will Gural. He noted LaSalla was a do-it-all midfielder in high school at Rocky Point and highlighted LaSalla not afraid of using his off-hand on offense, which most faceoff men would never do.

TEAM PREVIEW: DUKE

Head Coach: John Danowski (13th season)
Assistant Coaches: Ron Caputo, Matt Danowski, Ned Crotty (Volunteer)

Probable Lineup

Attack: Joe Robertson, CJ Carpenter, Joey Manown
1st Midfield: Kevin Quigley, Nakeie Montgomery, Brad Smith
Other Offensive Midfielders: Jake Seau, Reilly Walsh, Garrett Leadmon
Close Defense: JT Giles-Harris, Cade Van Raaphorst, Jack Fowler
Goaltender: Turner Uppgren
Primary Faceoff: Brian Smyth (FOGO), Peter Welch, John Prendergast (wings)
Defensive Midfield: Peter Welch, Walker Scaglione (LSM), Jack Falk, Terry Lindsay, John Prendergast, Blake Leischow (SSDM)
Others To Know: Sean Lowrie (Attack), Cameron Badour (Midfield), Joe Stein (FOGO), Jordan Ginder (FOGO)

Whereas this is relatively new territory for Virginia, Duke has been here before. And throughout the decade. The Blue Devils and John Danowski have been the team of the decade with three national championships. They went to the national championship game last year in Foxborough but lost to Yale. They’ll look for title number four to close out the decade.

There’s no Justin Guterding for the Blue Devils this year. But guys like Joe Robertson, Brad Smith, and now Nakeie Montgomery have stepped up on offense while Cade Van Raaphorst and JT Giles-Harris continue to man the defense and protect goalie Turner Uppgren.

Brian Smyth struggled last week against Charles Leonard of Notre Dame. So Danowski pulled him and plugged in Joe Stein, who entered the season taking 28 faceoffs. He went 12-of-21 and helped Duke at that area. The unit will need to have a better performance against LaSalla and Virginia.

THE MATCHUP

These two ACC rivals met earlier in the season, Virginia was without Kraus due to a minor injury. It was tied at five after two quarters and Mikey Herring scored to give the Cavaliers a 6-5 lead. But the Blue Devils scored seven of the game’s final eight goals to win by four goals. It was their 19th win in the last 20 meetings. Virginia’s last victory came in the 2010 ACC Tournament, but Duke later got revenge in the NCAA Tournament en route to their first national championship this decade.

For Duke, they will have to figure out LaSalla at the faceoff X as well as their wingers. The freshman went 15-of-22 in their regular season meeting (Brian Smyth went 7-of-17, Jordan Ginder lost all five draws). Could this be where Stein comes in and gives the Blue Devils some more possessions? Virginia’s defense looks a little better than they did when the teams first met, but the Cavaliers do need to be solid in that department. The offense starts from the midfield with Montgomery and Smith initiating offense. Duke will also need to be very good on their clears. In their first meeting, the Blue Devils went 19-of-25 on clears against Virginia. And we saw how fiesty the Cavaliers were on Saturday.

For Virginia, outside of making sure their defense is buttoned up, the offense will have to figure out a way to win matchups against Giles-Harris and Van Raaphorst. Kraus and Moore will more than likely be the two matched up against Duke’s defenders. Guys like Laviano, Aitken, Conrad, and even Connor will more than likely need to step up. Aitken will probably have the long pole on him.


#5 Yale vs. #1 Penn State (2:30 PM)

TEAM PREVIEW: YALE

Head Coach: Andy Shay (16th season)
Assistant Coaches: Andrew Baxter, Andrew Stimmel, Ed Williams (Volunteer)

Probable Lineup

Attack: Jackson Morrill, Matt Brandau, Matt Gaudet
1st Midfield: Joey Sessa, John Daniggelis, Jack Tigh
Other Offensive Midfielders: Lucas Cotler, Brian Tevlin, Christian Cropp, Ted Forst, Luke Eschbach (two-way)
Close Defense: Will Weitzel, Chris Fake, Aidan Hynes
Goaltender: Jack Starr
Primary Faceoff: TD Ierlan (FOGO), John Daniggelis, Robert Mooney (wings)
Defensive Midfield: Robert Mooney, Brian Ward (LSM), Will Renz, Jack Ocken, John Daniggelis (two-way), Luke Eschbach (SSDM)
Others To Know: Brendan Rooney (Attack), Bryce De Muth (Defense), Joe Neumann (FOGO)

Welcome back to Championship Weekend. Last year, the Bulldogs won their first national championship over Duke with guys such as Ben Reeves and Chris Keating leading the way. With most of the seniors gone, Yale has returned to the big stage with impact players such as Jackson Morrill and John Daniggelis leading the way on offense. Freshman Matt Brandau has been a huge help at attack with 40 goals and 21 assists. Matt Gaudet is still scoring goals, 47 of them this year to be exact.

The defense has a few new, but familiar faces. Chris Fake is back covering the opposing team’s top attackman, but he hasn’t had a very good year. Aidan Hynes could be argue as Yale’s best defender, with Will Weitzel the third close defenseman. Jack Starr had a great game against Georgetown and stood tall in the offensive shootout last weekend against Penn.

But Yale’s key is at the faceoff X with TD Ierlan. “TD makes me feel more comfortable all the time, he’s incredible,” Shay said during Tuesday’s media conference call. He certainly is with his 76.1% faceoff win percentage and 262 ground balls this year. He also has six goals and four assists to add on offense. He’s a big reason why Yale is where they’re at right now.

TEAM PREVIEW: PENN STATE

Head Coach: Jeff Tambroni (9th season)
Assistant Coaches: Peter Toner, John Haus, John Hogan (Volunteer)

Probable Lineup

Attack: Grant Ament, Mac O’Keefe, Dylan Foulds
1st Midfield: TJ Malone, Nick Spillane, Jack Kelly
Other Offensive Midfielders: Dan Reaume, Cole Willard, Jack Traynor
Close Defense: Chris Sabia, Nick Cardile, Brayden Peck
Goaltender: Colby Kneese
Primary Faceoff: Gerard Arceri (FOGO), Tommy Wright, Brian Townsend (wings)
Defensive Midfield: Tommy Wright, Kevin Fox (LSM), Brian Townsend, Bobby Burns, Robby Black, Nick McEvoy (SSDM)
Others To Know: Jake Glatz (FOGO), Mike Aronow (Defense), TJ Connellan (Defense), Matt Donnelly (Midfield)

Is this the best offense we’ve ever seen in college lacrosse? It’s certainly one of the best. Penn State has scored at least 20 goals in their two NCAA Tournament games. The only other team to do it was the 1990 Syracuse Orange squad that included Gary and Paul Gait. That’s legendary.

Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe are looking like that legendary duo. Ament’s 91 assists are an NCAA record and his 118 points lead the entire country. He looks like the Tewaaraton front runner right now. O’Keefe leads the country with 75 goals. Dylan Foulds (51 points), Jack Kelly (49), Nick Spillane (48), and TJ Malone (36) all have over 35 points on the season.

While the offense destroys defenses, Penn State’s own defense is good. Chris Sabia, Nick Cardile, and Brayden Peck are all from the Philadelphia area and try to hold offenses down and protect Colby Kneese in goal. Sabia didn’t have the best of games against another Tewaaraton finalist in Pat Spencer last Sunday. They’ll have their hands full again with the second best scoring offense in the country.

And so will FOGO Gerard Arceri who didn’t start hot against Bailey Savio and Loyola in the quarterfinals before controlling draws after the opening quarter. He only went 4-of-23 against Ierlan in their regular season meeting back in late February in New Haven. He should be a little better this time around. But also look for Jake Glatz to maybe take draws.

THE MATCHUP

Just like the UVA-Duke matchup, Yale and Penn State met in the regular season with the Bulldogs just edging the Nittany Lions in a 14-13 early season shootout.

Ament and O’Keefe had big days for Penn State on offense. Ament had a pair of goals with seven assists, while O’Keefe found the back of the net five times. Sabia had three caused turnovers but allowed two goals and five assists to Jackson Morrill. He was aided with hat-tricks from Gaudet and Brendan Rooney. But the key to the Yale win was probably Ierlan and his big day. He went 25-of-31 on the faceoff X with 22 ground balls and a goal. Ierlan definitely helped Yale steal games throughout the season.

For Yale and Penn State, each team has high-scoring offenses and both defenses will need to find ways to stop their top talents and contain their other scorers. It sounds simple, but it’s true. The Bulldog defense has a much tougher task up their sleeve after giving up 16 and 18 goals to Georgetown and Penn in the last two weeks. Penn State’s defense is an aggressive unit, and sometimes can bite them back if Yale uses their on-field IQ.

The biggest x-factor will be at the faceoff X. Ierlan and Arceri will be huge once again. If Ierlan starts to dominate, how long until Jeff Tambroni puts in Jake Glatz or even a long pole?


Other Championships

Sunday will showcase the Division II and III national championships. Both games can be streamed on the NCAA’s website.

The Division II game (1 PM) pits defending champion Merrimack against Limestone. Merrimack looks to end their run as a Division II program with their second straight national championship in their third straight national title appearance. The Warriors will move to the NEC next season and begin a four-year transition period. The Saints have been the Division II team of the decade with three national championships (2014, 2015, and 2017). They also went to the 2012 and 2016 national championships.

This will be a rematch of the 2017 national title game which saw the Saints beat the Warriors 11-9.

There’s new blood on the Division III side (4 PM) as Amherst and Cabrini make their first ever national championship appearances. The Mammoths defeated Williams in the semifinals last weekend thanks in part to D3 national player of the year Evan Wolf. If the “Wolf” name sounds familiar, Evan’s older brother was Jordan Wolf of Duke. As for Cabrini, they defeated Salisbury, the Division III team of the decade, last weekend. They’re led by senior Jordan Krug on offense. Usually these games can provide a ton of high-tempo lacrosse.

On the women’s side, the Division I semifinals and national championship are at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Maryland. North Carolina takes on Boston College in an ACC battle at 5 PM (ESPNEWS), while Maryland plays Northwestern in a Big Ten battle at 7:30 PM (ESPNEWS). The winners play Sunday in the national championship game at noon on ESPNU.