BALTIMORE — Virginia began its men’s lacrosse season the same way it ended its last one: With a loss at Loyola.
The sixth-ranked Cavaliers struggled to get traction at both ends of the field, dropping a 17-9 decision to the No. 4 Greyhounds on Saturday in the season opener for both teams at the Ridley Athletic Complex.
It was Virginia’s most lopsided loss in an opener since a 20-8 setback against the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club in 1965.
Pat Spencer and Kevin Lindley both scored five goals for the Greyhounds, while Jacob Stover made 18 saves. It was the most goals Loyola has scored in 23 all-time meetings with Virginia.
“Both ends of the field, 6-v-6, they proved they were more prepared and executed their schemes much better,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “We tried to hold our slides and they made us pay for that. When we did slide, when we did double the ball, they seemed to find openings. It was one of those frustrating days as a defensive coordinator trying to figure out what is the magic formula here, and there wasn’t one.”
It was Virginia’s first outing since a 14-12 loss at Loyola in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. With a potent offense headlined by midfielder Dox Aitken and attackman Michael Kraus, the Cavaliers received considerable offseason buzz nationally about taking another step (or two) in 2019.
Virginia had a new wrinkle for its offense, moving Matt Moore, last year’s ACC freshman of the year, from midfield to attack. Still, the Cavaliers still faced plenty of questions on defense, an area they’ve struggled in recent years.
Those questions remain unanswered, though it’s hardly surprising since Spencer has earned first team All-America honors in consecutive seasons and is a preseason favorite for national player of the year honors. The senior controlled things Saturday almost from the start, scoring a little more than two minutes into the game and creating problems for the Cavaliers throughout.
Spencer’s ability to dissect defenses with his passing is well known in the sport. But he put his improved physicality at work against the Cavaliers, at one point backing down a defenseman, drawing a double team and simply beating goalie Alex Rode (six saves) from close range anyway.
“The biggest challenge is Spencer himself,” senior defenseman Logan Greco said. “He generates so much of their offense that it’s really hard to game plan for him and then you have to game plan for the rest of them, because the rest of them are still really good, too.”
Aitken scored three times in the first 19 minutes as Virginia hung within 6-4, but the Greyhounds gradually pulled away. Loyola got it to 8-4 by halftime, and Spencer scored twice to open the scoring in the second half.
While neither Tiffany nor Moore was bothered by the Cavaliers’ shot selection, Stover made 13 saves in the middle two quarters to prevent an extended push.
“You have to give credit to Stover,” Moore said. “He had a really good game.”
Virginia flirted with a rally when Moore scored back-to-back goals to close within 10-6 in the middle of the third quarter. Even then, Spencer had an answer, zipping a pass to the doorstep for Aidan Olmstead to deposit 40 seconds later.
“We didn’t give them runs,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “We went on offensive runs ourselves. I think they had one offensive run of two goals, and we were able to shut that down. In a game like this in the past, they’ve been able to have those two- or three-goal runs.”
The Cavaliers seemed grounded afterward, a combination of understanding there is plenty to work on as they navigate a challenging schedule and certainty they have the ability to improve enough to make good on the potential so many saw in Tiffany’s third season in Charlottesville.
“There’s a culture of standards, and it just doesn’t change with one game,” Tiffany said. “We are taking that long view. We’re building this thing. We want to build it faster than it is happening, but we’re going to build this thing.”