There’s no question that Virginia lacrosse goalie Matthew Nunes came to college with credentials. Inside Lacrosse ranked him as the No. 1 goalie recruit in the nation. He was a 2021 USA Lacrosse All-American and Under Armour All-American.
Early this season, the freshman backed it up quickly. Nunes picked up ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors twice in the first two months and shared the recognition again once in April.
Still, the NCAA Tournament is a different deal. The NCAA Tournament for the two-time reigning National Champions as the goalie is a different deal. The NCAA Tournament for the two-time reigning National Champions as the goalie on the road is a different deal.
Different deal, but same prepared performance. Nunes stepped up with a huge effort Saturday as UVA ousted Brown, 17-10, and advanced to face Maryland in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals.
“We’re ecstatic,” Tiffany said of Nunes’ first postseason game. “Because it is the unknowns. First year, first NCAA Tournament game where there’s no tomorrow, nothing’s guaranteed. For him to make 16 saves against a team that can bring some serious heat, that was a real key going into this game. We knew Brown was going to just keep shooting and they’re just going to keep putting on and you’ve just got to keep making saves. Despite not getting off the to the greatest start, the composure he showed, absolutely fortunate to have him as the last line of defense.”
The Bears entered the game averaging 13.40 goals per game. They featured dangerous scoring weapons with Devon McLane and Ryan Aughavin leading the way. McLane entered the game with 46 goals and 23 assists on the season, while Aughavin had 28 goals and 13 assists. The Cavaliers held McLane to 1 goal and 1 assist with Cade Saustad doing a lot of the defense work, while Aughavin had 1 goal and 2 assists.
Both players did fire off 8 shots, but Nunes was up to the task throughout the night. He ended up with 16 saves, which tied his season high set against High Point way back in game two. He had single-digit saves in his three previous games, including the loss to Duke, but came through with a 61.5% save rate against Brown.
Nunes played a key role in the third quarter in particular when the Virginia offense got a little sloppy. With UVA up 9-7, there was a five-minute stretch where the Hoos gave up 4 turnovers and led to offensive possessions for the Bears. Nunes turned away a shot by McLane at 12:51 in the third and attempts by Trevor Glavin at 11:24 and 9:53 following the first trio of turnovers. He did get beat finally after the fourth when McLane registered his lone assist on a feed to Adrian Enchill at 8:35.
Still, giving up just 1 goal in those minutes of unsettled play kept Virginia in front and prevented the hosts from mounting much momentum. After the Bears tied the score 27 seconds later by winning the faceoff, the Cavaliers closed the door defesively and pulled away to the convincing win.
Tiffany said that Nunes has the right temperament and talent to be successful in the pressure cooker type games.
“First off, he’s really talented. He’s a very good goalie,” Tiffany said. “Second, he’s got the right mental and emotional approach. Brown got a couple goals there in the first quarter, got some more in the second quarter – he’s good. You talk to him at halftime. ‘I’m good.’ So he’s talented and he wants the big moments. He doesn’t shy away from it. So that’s really what it comes down to.”
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