CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament bracket was released earlier this month, Matt Moore couldn’t help his eyes from scanning a few rounds into the draw, to the Final Four and a potential national semifinal pairing with Duke.
See, for all the goals Virginia lacrosse has checked off its list the past two seasons — ending its ACC losing streak, returning to the NCAAs, winning the conference tournament — there remained some unfinished business with the Blue Devils, a conference rival.
“We all wanted this,” Moore, a sophomore attackman, said this week. “When the seedings came out, you know you’re not supposed to look ahead but, you know we did. That first meeting we had after that, we figured out we’d be playing Duke in the Final Four.”
Saturday, the two teams will in fact go head to head in Philadelphia with a spot in Monday’s national championship match on the line.
UVa (15-3) has lost 11 straight matches to Duke, including dropping that 12-7 road loss in Durham this season. The losing streak began, coincidentally, in the 2010 Final Four. That year, the Blue Devils beat Virginia 14-13 to advance to the national championship match.
“All of us want to get another shot at Duke,” sophomore attackman Michael Kraus said. “But I think what we’re doing a good job this week of not letting that noise of ‘It’s Duke again,’ or whatever the history may be of the whole matchup, not getting caught up in the hype of the Final Four.”
Kraus missed three games because of an injured left ankle, but still ranks fourth on the team with 35 goals and second with 32 assists going into Saturday’s semifinal.
One of the contests Kraus had to sit out was the regular-season matchup with the Blue Devils (13-4).
Without Kraus, the offense sputtered. Moore showed he could shoulder a bigger offensive load, scoring a season-high four goals in the loss, but the Cavaliers turned impatient without Kraus, becoming over-aggressive in transition. That, combined with Duke’s physical domination on ground balls, led to the loss.
Those are the two areas third-year coach Lars Tiffany hopes his team can show its improved since that loss when they get another crack at the Blue Devils.
“We know them, they know us,” Tiffany said this week. “We were certainly disappointed when we drove back from Durham six weeks ago with a loss. We felt like we hadn’t put our best foot forward.”
Tiffany, who took over at UVa before the 2017 season, has led a rapid reboot for the Cavaliers, who last won the national championship in 2011 under former coach Dom Starsia, who Tiffany played for at Brown.
After missing the NCAAs in Tiffany’s first season, Virginia snapped an 18-game ACC losing streak in Year 2. This season, he guided UVa to its first ACC tournament title since 2010, and now has it in the Final Four for the first time since the 2011 title win.
“You come to Virginia expecting to be on this stage,” Kraus said. “This year, we’ve earned it.”
So have the Blue Devils, winners of five of their last six matches. That run includes the regular-season win over Virginia and a pair of one-goal victories over Richmond and Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament.
Duke has done it with one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, allowing just 9.4 goals per game, the sixth fewest in the nation. Senior goalie Turner Uppgren’s 9.5 goals-against-average is the seventh best in the country and the lowest mark of any remaining goalie in the tournament.
That’s the challenge that stands between UVa and an appearance on college lacrosse’s final Monday.
“We want to go all the way,” Moore said. “We have our goal sheets. We checked off ‘Win the ACC tournament.’ We did not check off ‘Beat Duke,’ and we did not check off ‘Win the national championship.’ We’re looking to.”