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No. 3 Virginia Lacrosse Takes Down No. 1 Notre Dame 15-10

By Matt Newton,


The Cavaliers outplayed the Fighting Irish in every facet of the game and knocked off No. 1 Notre Dame in convincing fashion

Any and all questions about how the Cavaliers would respond after their disappointing loss to Maryland last week were answered in convincing fashion on Saturday in South Bend. Matthew Nunes had a great game in between the pipes, Petey LaSalla gave UVA significant possession advantage at the faceoff, the Virginia defense held the Kavanagh brothers and the Notre Dame offense in check, and UVA's high-powered offensive unit put up the most goals the Cavaliers have scored on Notre Dame since 1994.

The Hoos came into Arlotta Stadium on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon and outplayed the top-ranked Fighting Irish in every facet of the game, as No. 3 Virginia took down No. 1 Notre Dame 15-10.

Although Notre Dame struck first on a Pat Kavanagh to Chris Kavanagh goal and UVA didn't score for the first five and a half minutes of the game, the first quarter as a whole couldn't have been scripted much better for the Cavaliers as they looked to bounce back from last week's loss to Maryland.

After being held to just one goal and two assists last week, Connor Shellenberger came to the party early on, recording two goals and two assists in the first half alone. Shellenberger used a sweet swim move on a dodge from behind the cage to gain separation from Notre Dame defenseman Chris Fake before scoring from a sharp angle to get the Cavaliers on the board. Less than a minute later, Jeff Conner gave UVA the lead as his defender broke his stick, leaving Conner wide open for an easy goal from point-blank range. Payton Cormier followed that up with back-to-back goals, the first off of a feed from Shellenberger and the second on an easy stepdown from the right wing to convert on a man-up opportunity. Shellenberger drew a short-stick defender behind the cage and found Xander Dickson on the crease for another easy goal, capping a 5-0 run to give UVA a 5-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Petey LaSalla won six of the seven faceoff draws in the opening period, which gave Virginia a significant advantage in the possession battle. Perhaps learning from Maryland's strategy, the Cavaliers gained an even bigger edge in possession time by being more patient and deliberate in their offensive sets than they were against the Terrapins a week ago.

Although LaSalla continued to have the upper hand at the faceoff x, winning 10 of the 14 first-half draws, Virginia's possession advantage softened as the Cavaliers committed six second-quarter turnovers. Jose Boyer scored a pole goal in transition to end a scoring drought of more than 17 minutes for Notre Dame. Both teams forced turnovers on the ride and scored transition goals and then Ricky Miezan scored with a bouncer to make it 7-3.

Notre Dame crucially ended the first half with a pair of goals, one from Pat Kavanagh and a crafty behind-the-back shot from Jake Taylor to cut the UVA lead to 7-5 and seize some momentum heading into halftime.

The Fighting Irish continued their run to start the second half, as both Kavanagh brothers notched goals within the first three minutes to tie things up at 7-7. Although there was still nearly an entire half to be played, Virginia's response over the next several minutes was critical and essentially won the game for the Cavaliers.

With all of the momentum on the side of the Irish, UVA answered by scoring six of the next seven goals, beginning with a smooth play from Dickson, who collected an airborne rebound after a save from Notre Dame goalie Liam Entenmann and deposited the ball in the back of the net to give Virginia the lead for good. 40 seconds later, Dickson was celebrating his third goal of the game as Shellenberger found him on the crease with a beautiful lefty pass to make it 9-7. Patrick McIntosh added an unassisted goal on a left-handed rip and then Shellenberger found Dickson again for another goal, matching Virginia's largest lead of the game at 11-7.

Notre Dame scored an extra man goal to stop the bleeding, but the UVA offense wasn't done yet. Payton Cormier and Thomas McConvey executed their patented Canadian give-and-go, with McConvey finishing. And then, you guessed it, Shellenberger connected with Dickson once again to make it 13-8.

Xander Dickson and Connor Shellenberger formed an unstoppable duo for Virginia on Saturday, as Dickson had six goals and an assist and Shellenberger had two goals and five assists and four of Shellenberger's assists were on Dickson goals.

Notre Dame took advantage of an unsettled situation at the end of the third quarter and Quinn McCahon scored in transition to get the Irish back within four at 13-9, leaving the door open for a Notre Dame comeback entering the final period.

Matthew Nunes and the UVA defense said no. Nunes has not been playing his best lacrosse in cage this season and especially of late, but he brought his A-Game to South Bend on Saturday. The Fighting Irish put seven shots on goal in the fourth quarter and six of those shots were saved by Nunes, who finished with 14 saves versus 10 goals allowed for a .583 save percentage.

The Virginia defense in front of Nunes deserves a great deal of credit as well, as the Irish did not get many clean looks in settled 6-on-6 situations. There was little hope of shutting the Kavanagh brothers completely out of the box score, but Cade Saustad and Cole Kastner did a brilliant job of preventing them from taking over the game and setting up their teammates the way they usually do. Pat Kavanagh had two goals and two assists and Chris Kavanagh had two goals as well. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's star midfielder Eric Dobson had just one assist and scored zero goals on six shots. Saturday might have been UVA's finest defensive performance of the season.

Notre Dame took 15 shots in the fourth quarter, but scored only one goal, while Virginia got goals from Peter Garno and Xander Dickson to cap the 15-10 victory. In the waning moments of the game, frustration boiled over for the Irish as both Pat and Chris Kavanagh got into a dead-ball altercation with Grayson Sallade and were hit with unsportsmanlike penalties, spending the final seconds of the contest in the penalty box.

Virginia's specialists shined in this matchup, as Petey LaSalla finished 17 of 29 from the faceoff x and Matthew Nunes made 14 saves. Dickson and Shellenberger led the UVA offense and Payton Cormier contributed two goals and two assists. Quentin Matsui added three caused turnovers and Virginia had 10 caused turnovers as a team.

Notre Dame came into this game on a 12-game winning streak dating back to last March. The Fighting Irish ended last season with six-straight wins and started this season with another six victories before falling to the same UVA team that handed them their last loss.

Virginia should receive a large number of first-place votes in this week's Inside Lacrosse poll and could be in line to retake the No. 1 spot based on UVA's strong performance on Saturday, as No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Maryland, and No. 3 Virginia have now completed the triangle of beating each other, but the Cavaliers have the most dominant win in that series and the most impressive resume at this point in the season.

Now 7-1 on the season and 1-0 in ACC play, Virginia faces a third-straight top five opponent next weekend as No. 4 Duke comes to Charlottesville on Friday at 5pm.

See more Virginia men's lacrosse news and content: Virginia Men's Lacrosse on Sports Illustrated

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