Virginia males’s lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany had simply assumed there can be someplace he might keep as he traveled north of Philadelphia for the Liberty Bell Problem in 2016. Tiffany had taken over the mantle for the Cavaliers simply three weeks previous to the early-July recruiting occasion, and he actually needed to see this particular face off specialist. After attempting — and failing — to discover a room at six completely different accommodations, Tiffany tracked down what an open room at a Vacation Inn in Quakertown.
After arriving previous midnight, he discovered the room wasn’t accessible and was truly being flea bombed.
So, how badly did Tiffany wish to see this participant take the sector? Badly sufficient that he brushed his enamel within the car parking zone, reclined his seat again so far as it might go, and slept in his automobile. In response to Tiffany, he bought about 5 good hours of sleep and boy, was it price it.
The following day, Tiffany noticed Petey LaSalla play and the remaining was historical past. He had seen him play as soon as earlier than — a couple of month prior when Tiffany was nonetheless the pinnacle coach at Brown — and knew then he needed LaSalla on his group.
“Recruiting shouldn’t be typically so black-and-white,” Tiffany advised Streaking the Garden. “In Petey’s case, it was simple to see a younger man who couldn’t solely achieve possession for his group, however create offense and rating targets.”
At first assembly, you won’t know that he is without doubt one of the finest — if not the finest — face-off males within the nation. However LaSalla, a 5-7 spark plug from Miller Place, New York, has been instrumental in Virginia’s success over the past three seasons. He got here into Charlottesville ranked the No. 94 participant and the No. 8 face-off specialist within the 2018 recruiting class, per Inside Lacrosse.
“His play type of speaks for itself,” fifth-year midfielder Dox Aitken mentioned of his face-off guru. “Freshman yr, you didn’t know what was going to occur after we have been placing them within the sport, however clearly, he made a repute for himself fairly early on, and, you understand, that hasn’t actually wavered in any respect. You recognize he’s gonna win face offs, [and] you understand — knock on wooden — he’s going to win the robust ones on the finish of the sport when it issues most.”
Proper out of the gate, LaSalla was thrown into the combination. He went 7-of-15 in his debut — a 17-9 loss to Loyola — and cut up time with fellow specialist Justin Schwenk. Over the course of his freshman season, he confirmed why his coach was prepared to sleep in a car parking zone to get that dedication. He racked up face off victories, serving to his Cavalier group win 10 of 11 video games to finish the common season after a gradual 1-2 begin.
Kip Turner, Virginia’s assistant coach that handles the group’s specialists (face offs and goalies), is aware of that when Petey will get within the zone, it’s higher to let him be. Turner and teammates each described the late-game vibes round LaSalla like somebody talks a couple of pitcher in the course of a no-hitter. “I keep in mind particularly the [2019 NCAA Quarterfinal] Maryland sport, I believe it was after the primary or second face off, the place he began occurring that run,” Turner acknowledged. “I simply let him be. I let him do his factor. You can simply inform in his eyes he was going to do every part he might to provide us an opportunity to win.”
With 10:38 remaining and Maryland main 12-7, LaSalla received the ultimate seven face offs of the sport — together with one in time beyond regulation — because the Hoos turned that five-goal deficit right into a one-goal victory and a visit to the nationwide semifinals.
Within the semifinals, he did it once more. Down 11-8 to ACC rival Duke with 9:49 to play, LaSalla received the ultimate eight attracts of the sport as Virginia received in double-overtime, 13-12. It was a outstanding feat to see as soon as within the postseason, not to mention twice. With LaSalla on the X, Virginia was seemingly by no means out of it, regardless of the deficit.
In opposition to Yale within the 2019 championship sport, LaSalla confronted his stiffest check but. The Elis boasted the nation’s finest face-off man, TD Ierlan, who got here into the sport with a 73% win share. Whereas the numbers from the sport look dire — Ierlan received 19-of-25 — LaSalla did his job admirably by simply making it laborious for Yale to rapidly achieve possession and get into its offense. The slight delay on the X allowed Virginia’s protection to stop the unsettled conditions that Yale thrived in or trigger turnovers, and the Hoos powered their method to a title.
It wasn’t the prettiest sport for LaSalla, however he bought the job finished.
“He’s simply probably the most resilient teammates,” Aitken acknowledged. “He comes off the sector after a loss, and he’s so degree headed and is aware of that the following one is his.”
Senior attackman Ian Laviano feels the identical manner. “Simply having him there and [knowing] that he’s going to combat is big, particularly later in video games after we’re down a pair targets.” Laviano added earlier than mentioning what a giant confidence increase LaSalla brings to the group. “I even have to say he’s from Lengthy Island…have to be one thing within the water up there.”
This season, LaSalla has been constantly incredible. In opposition to Robert Morris, he went an ideal 12-for-12 on the X within the first half. At Notre Dame, he went 52% in opposition to an Irish duo that, on the time, have been finest within the ACC. In Virginia’s second sport in opposition to North Carolina, Petey rattled off 14-straight face off wins over an 18+ minute span of sport time that noticed a 10-9 deficit flip into an 18-14 lead.
LaSalla attributes these win streaks like he had in 2019 and a number of other instances this season primarily to confidence. “If I’m on a kind of streaks. I’m simply fairly assured in myself, and I’m listening to the whistle fairly nicely,” he mentioned. “It’s simply numerous confidence and simply believing in myself.”
He paused earlier than including with a smile, “And Coach Turner not getting an excessive amount of in my head like he does generally.”
There was only one sport this season — an early loss on the Service Dome — the place he struggled, going 11-for-33. He may have an opportunity at revenge because the Hoos host Syracuse on Saturday at midday.
What Tiffany and Turner love about LaSalla is that he’s not only a FOGO — or “face off, get off” — kind of specialist. You possibly can depart him on the assault and also you’re going to get manufacturing out of him. LaSalla had eight targets, together with two within the title sport, and an help within the 2019 season. This yr he’s scored seven targets and dished out six assists in 13 video games.
“It’s scary for different groups for certain, particularly as a result of he’s bought a proper and a left hand, he’s bought stick expertise, he can shoot the ball, he’ll make the yet another cross,” Turner mentioned of Petey’s arsenal of weapons. “When you’re their defensive coordinator, I’m unsure what you do.”
Petey is undoubtedly a gifted athlete. In lacrosse, he was a two-time US Lacrosse All-American, two-time all-state (NY), three-time all-county, and three-time all division. Those self same expertise that make him a tough matchup on the lax subject made him a pressure on the gridiron. At Rocky Level Excessive College, LaSalla performed working again and linebacker and set college data for many touchdowns in a season (20) and most in a profession (43).
“To start with, he’s a very good lacrosse participant, backside line,” Turner mentioned when requested about what particularly makes LaSalla so particular. “That helps him outdoors the face off X. Contained in the X, he simply has that type of hopping quickness. He was a working again in highschool, and he was like a ridiculous working again in highschool, so he simply has these fast twitch wrists and hamstrings.”
Turner acknowledged that along with the bodily attributes that make him a very good participant, he’s bought the psychological talents to gauge what opponents try to do and modify his fashion as wanted. That adaptability got here in helpful earlier than the 2020-21 season, when the NCAA modified the face off guidelines. The “bike grip” — consider somebody holding the stick like they’re holding the handlebars of a motorbike — was outlawed, and gamers have been not allowed to drop to a knee for the face off. As a substitute, they instituted “impartial standing grip,” which means gamers keep standing (crouched), and need to have the hand closest to the pinnacle of the stick palm-side up.
This modified the best way he approached face offs. “I simply bought again to coaching, bought again to my roots,” LaSalla defined of the modifications. “It’s not too too completely different within the approach, nevertheless it’s just a bit completely different the best way it’s important to arrange, so it’s not too dangerous.”
LaSalla took it in stride, however based on Turner, he struggled a little bit as he adjusted. “It’s like you know the way to trip a motorbike, however you abruptly attempt to trip a unicycle,” Turner defined. “He was getting beat up a little bit bit follow at instances, however with a man like him, it didn’t take too lengthy for him to get again on prime.”
And on prime he’s.
With a 66.9% win share on the yr, LaSalla sits atop the ACC face off standings. He’s received 220 face offs already this season (which leads the nation), surpassing his 216 wins in 2019 and placing him in second place within the Virginia file books for the single-season face off win whole. Schwenk holds the highest spot with 242 wins (2018), a quantity that appears nicely inside attain with Syracuse and the postseason nonetheless to play.
He’s additionally inside hanging distance of the profession wins whole in Virginia historical past as he sits simply 95 wins behind the mark of 604 set by Jack DeVilliers from 2002-05 with one other season (or two) left to play.
The Tewaaraton Award, which works to the nation’s finest participant, announced their updated 25-man watch list on April twenty second. LaSalla made the lower, together with only one different face off specialist within the nation. The opposite nominee — Mike Sissenberger from Lehigh — leads the nation with 79.6% win share, however has simply 4 targets on the season.
You possibly can inform very simply when a participant is preferred primarily based on the fast reactions from their teammates when requested about them. When requested about LaSalla’s character off the sector, everybody lit up as they responded.
“He’s one of many funniest youngsters I’ve ever met,” Aitken laughed. “I believe he comes off as a reasonably quiet man, however when you crack the shell…[it’s] similar to, countless content material from him.”
Quentin Matsui, a second-year defender who has a locker proper subsequent to Petey, concurs. “On the sector, everyone can see that clearly he’s a beast and tremendous centered,” Matsui advised media through Zoom. “However then off the sector — he’s [No.] 23, I’m [No.] 22, so we share lockers — he’s a hilarious man. He’s tremendous upbeat. He’s simply humorous. He makes everyone snigger within the locker room.”
Whereas his coaches — and for that matter, media — don’t get to see the identical facet as his teammates, they see a participant that’s clearly nicely preferred. “We see a quiet man,” Tiffany mentioned. “The blokes inform me he’s hilarious. A pair instances I’ve picked up a little bit bit if I get right into a room, and he doesn’t see me… Petey, he’s reserved round me, however apparently he’s actually, actually humorous.”
Tiffany described LaSalla’s humor as “refined,” and added that he’s huge into video video games when he’s not taking part in or finding out for courses in his American research main. Laviano mentioned his humor is “dry” earlier than including, “He positively wins over the locker room. He has a presence in there. He positively shines into the locker room.”
“When you crack the shell, which fortuitously I’ve finished, it’s simply countless content material from him,” Aitken mentioned earlier than recommending Petey get the “mic’d up” therapy for a sport or follow. Upon realizing the information of being listened to would possibly make LaSalla clam up a bit, he had one other suggestion.
“I’ll bug him in the future,” Aitken laughed. “I’ll put a bug on his again or one thing.”
It was almost 5 years in the past when Tiffany known as Turner to say, “I can’t discover a lodge. Screw it, I’m going to sleep within the truck.” It seems that LaSalla was nicely well worth the inconvenience, each on the sector and off.
“We’re tremendous fortunate to have him,” Turner acknowledged.