Late Surge Carries Virginia Past Brown

Connor Shellenberger and Virginia advanced past Brown in the NCAA Tournament. ~ Photo courtesy of Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

The Virginia men’s lacrosse team has dominated postseason play since 2019. The Cavaliers have won back-to-back championships and began to defend their crown once again on Saturday night. However, they were in a fight in their NCAA Tournament matchup against the No. 8 Brown Bears and a rowdy Providence crowd.

Not that the Hoos expected anything else.

The Bears clinched their first NCAA bid since 2016, which was their last season with Brown alumnus Lars Tiffany as the head coach. Despite the lack of experience in tournament action, the Bears gave the Cavaliers a lot to handle through the first two-and-a-half periods through their physicality and up-tempo style.

Virginia knew its hands were full with Brown midfielder Ryan Aughavin and goalie Connor Theriault, both of whom were All-Ivy First-Team selections. Regardless, every goal for the Bears in the first half was from a different player, showing that any player can attack the Cavaliers. The teams went back-and-forth and were evenly matched, evident by the four lead changes and six ties through the first 37 minutes. With the game tied at nine, Virginia began to pull away.

After a nine minute scoring drought, the Hoos got back on the board to take a 10-9 lead off a Xander Dickson man-up goal. This opened up the floodgates, as UVA wound up scoring another seven goals for a crucial 8-0 run in 15 minutes. The Cavaliers’ defense was top-notch, as they held control over groundballs, 32-20, including a 16-8 edge in the second half. Brown did not score another goal until 2:30 left in the game, a 20-minute stretch from its last goal. The dominant finish propelled Virginia to a 17-10 win.

Tiffany was impressed by how his team adapted to a feisty Brown team.

“We want to be the impresser, but we were playing against [Brown, who] we’ve learned … that when we’re overaggressive, they’ll take advantage of it,” Tiffany said. “This is a team that is dangerous. You’re really rolling the dice if you’re going to play up-tempo and push forward. … Really, what was exciting is I think we did find that right balance. … We got our transition game going, we’re scoring goals … and we held on when Brown got some transition.”

Virginia had eight different goal scorers, and Connor Shellenberger led the way with 4 goals and 4 assists. Payton Cormier scored 3 of his 5 goals during the 8-0 run. Matt Moore had 2 goals and 2 assists, and Dickson scored twice and assisted on a goal. Petey LaSalla held a 9-7 advantage in faceoffs in the first half, but gave the Cavaliers more opportunities in the second half by winning 11 of the 15 faceoffs.

As Tiffany talked about, slowing down Brown’s transition was key, and Cade Saustad and Cole Kastner played major roles in slowing down the Brown midfielders and attackers. Saustad helped shut down Devon McLane, who entered the game with 46 goals and 23 assists for the Bears but managed just one of each Saturday.

Matthew Nunes had a day from goal in his first tournament outing. In the first half, the ACC Freshman of the Year had 8 saves and let in 7 goals. In the second half, he again had 8 saves but only allowed 3 goals. Brown’s fast-paced offense made it difficult for Nunes in the beginning, but he settled in during the second half, which allowed the Cavaliers to catapult ahead. He becomes the first freshman goalie to win a game in the NCAA Tournament for the Hoos since Derek Kenney in 1999 when Virginia won its second national title.

Virginia, who came into the tournament averaging 15.86 goals a game, moved to 23-0 when scoring 15 or more goals in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers are currently on a nine-game win streak in NCAA Tournament play and will look to keep their momentum going, as they will take on No. 1 Maryland in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Sunday May 22 in Columbus, Ohio. It will be a potential revenge game for the Hoos after their 23-12 loss during the regular season to the Terps. The two teams also played each other in the past two tournaments with Virginia winning both (13-12 in 2019 NCAA Quarterfinals and 17-16 in 2021 NCAA Finals).

Despite a lower seeding than usual, Tiffany is confident with this team’s ability to win in the big moments that will be necessary for a title push, especially with still undefeated Maryland on deck.

“I’m fortunate to be surrounded here by Payton and Connor and men back in the locker room who appreciate and came to Virginia so they could be in these type of high-stakes high-pressure situations,” Tiffany said. “And we performed under that pressure at a high level tonight.”

Final Stats