Faceoff Iron Man Petey LaSalla Readies for Final Weekend as a Cavalier


Petey LaSalla has taken 1,754 faceoffs in his career — the most ever.

The darling of just about every Virginia men’s lacrosse game broadcast on ESPN since 2019, Petey LaSalla’s Cavaliers career will end this weekend — possibly with a third national championship.

LaSalla, who has played in all 76 games the Hoos have played since 2019, is the straw that stirs the drink. He’s taken 1,754 faceoffs in his career — the most ever — and has a habit of taking the occasional draw win to the house.

“Perceptive of offensive opportunities and subtleties, this quiet, unassuming and hard-charging first-year faceoff man is proving to be more than just a specialist at the X,” UVA head coach Lars Tiffany said in 2019.

Was Tiffany on to something, or was Tiffany on to something?

The 1,038 faceoff wins — fourth all-time in Division I — that LaSalla has accrued over the course of his career are one thing. His propensity for initiating offense outside of earning possession is another. He has 38 career goals and 12 career assists, and even though it’s hardly a surprise at this point to see him make plays, it doesn’t lessen the reaction from teammates and fans.

Take Saturday’s quarterfinal against Georgetown, for example. LaSalla won a first-quarter faceoff and stayed on to play offense. As the play developed, LaSalla drifted toward goal-line extended, received a pass from Xander Dickson at X and dodged a Georgetown pole to score.

“Dodging w a face-off stick? Nah,” as one Twitter user put it.

“Xander Dickson was at X, and he had his defender hung up,” LaSalla said. “I was tired and kinda wandered to X and probably wasn’t supposed to do that. I started to run up the hash, and the guy tried to get a hack in on him, so I was pretty open. I remember thinking I was going to go underneath and get inside leverage, but the defender swung pretty hard. I just spun to the outside.”

Cut to Tiffany assessing LaSalla’s game before the 2020 season.

“The lacrosse acumen he brings to the field allows this man to play a surprising variety of roles and to shatter the term specialist,” Tiffany said. “How often do we throw a pass to a faceoff man? Petey’s teammates do this without reservation.”

LASALLA ESTIMATES THAT HE SPENT NEARLY EVERY DAY of the 2021 season in the trainer’s room. That was a tough season for the 5-7, 185 pounder from Miller Place, N.Y.

He dealt with a “boatload” of injuries. He pulled his hamstrings twice. He pulled his quad pretty badly the day before a matchup with Bryant in the NCAA tournament.

“I had a sprained ankle at some point that season, too,” he said.

He credits Rebecca Vozzo, Virginia’s associate athletic trainer, for keeping him on the field. He’s learned to take extra care before working out, practicing or playing and now spends an extra 5-10 minutes stretching out his legs.

It would take something extreme for LaSalla to miss a game, though. And you can bet nothing will stop him from missing a single faceoff next weekend in Philadelphia, where Virginia takes on Notre Dame in the NCAA semifinals on Saturday.

“Growing up, I grew up with a younger brother and an older brother, and we were always wrestling and fighting,” LaSalla said. “My dad was always hard on me in sports, just instilling that mindset where I’m not going to miss a game. I know my time’s limited, and I just never wanted to miss a game and let my teammates down.”

Thankfully for the Cavaliers, LaSalla doesn’t have any nagging injuries heading into Championship Weekend. He battled a bad case of turf toe in the preseason and tore a couple ligaments badly enough that he was a close call for Virginia’s February 11 opener against Michigan, but shocking no one, he assumed his normal role.

Oh, and he went 14-for-25, showing no signs of an issue. “He hits the ignition switch for our team,” Tiffany said in 2021.

Regardless of the status of his own body, LaSalla is driven by showing up for his teammates. He’s seen a lot of them in his five years in Charlottesville. He’d give it all for any one of them.

“I was thinking about this the other day,” LaSalla said. “For the past five years, all I’ve ever done or thought about was UVA Lacrosse. It’s kinda a weird feeling that it’s coming to an end in a week. It’s been an eternity.”

It’s also felt like an eternity (in a good way) for the Virginia coaching staff. Tiffany prior to the 2023 season: “He is still here?”

MONDAYS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE ARE FOR GOLF. Not that LaSalla is any good at it.

He shoots in the mid-to-high 90s. Even during the week of a national semifinal, a handful of foursomes descended upon Birdwood Golf Course on the campus of Virginia for a stress-free 18 holes.

“I’m more of a present thinker,” LaSalla said about managing the stress and expectations of Championship Weekend. “I don’t really think long-term. I didn’t think I’d be here at 23 going for my third run.”

LaSalla was instrumental in Virginia’s 2019 and 2021 national championship runs. Against Yale in the 2019 NCAA title game, he struggled to the tune of a 4-for-17 showing. He remained opportunistic, turning one of those four makes into a make-it-take-it that stood as the game-winning goal. In 2021 against Maryland, LaSalla went 21-for-37 and had two points — a goal and an assist.

With a career mark of 59.2 percent at the faceoff dot, winning draws consistently isn’t a large concern. But Notre Dame’s faceoff duo of Will Lynch and Colin Hagstrom will see LaSalla for the third time this spring. He’s 17-for-29 and 14-for-24 against that pair this season, and UVA has won both matchups.

LaSalla’s hoping to lean on his Championship Weekend experience to give him even more of an edge. Virginia assistant Kip Turner’s influence on game-planning the faceoff will help, too. And not to downplay the talent of Notre Dame, but LaSalla isn’t stressing a third date with the Irish. Or a third trip to the NCAA semifinals. Or possibly his third NCAA title.

“The way I lead is through the way I conduct myself on and off the field,” LaSalla said. “I’m a lighthearted person. I don’t ever take anything too seriously. Even this week with practice or last week going into Georgetown, a lot of the older guys were loose and having fun.”

And for one last time, let’s cut to Tiffany before the 2022 season.

“Craves the biggest of stages and moments,” he said of LaSalla. “Teammates lean on him for possessions and laughs.”


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