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Junior defenseman Matt Kelly is one of the leaders of the Cavalier defense and will be counted on to help contain a powerful Syracuse offense. Virginia and Syracuse clash in the national semifinals Saturday at noon on ESPN2 with the winner advancing to the national title game on Memorial Day. Kelly shares some of his thoughts about returning to the final four and playing Syracuse again.

Q: This is the second time in your career that the team has advanced to the final four. How exciting is it to get back again this season?
MK: It’s very exciting. It’s a little different than last time (2006) because this time around it’s my junior year and not my freshman year. I’m more of a leader on the team this time and I have a bigger role to play.

Q: This is the second time in your career that you played against Syracuse in the semifinals. This is always the game that fans always look forward to. What’s it like to play in a game that is likely to be what the fans want, an up and down type of game?
MK: Without question, it’s the most fun game to play. It’s two high-paced teams, high intensity. Both teams have big name players all over the field. All week is fun preparing for them, too.

It’s nothing too complicated, just big, strong, fast good athletes running around. Playing Syracuse is usually a high scoring, high intensity game. It just makes everything about it exciting and fun.

Q: What do you recall from your first final four two years ago playing Syracuse in the semifinals?
MK: I remember it being a tight game through halftime. I remember playing against Brett Bucktooth and Joe Yevoli. There were also a couple of guys that I had been looking up to when I started playing lacrosse in high school and it was kind of neat to have the opportunity to play them in my first final four experience.

But just like your typical Virginia Syracuse game is high scoring, the athletic high paced game that

It was really close for three quarters of the game and we ended up pulling away in the fourth.

Q: Syracuse midfielder Steven Brooks is from the Chicago area, just like you. How did you come to know him?
MK: He’s from Libertyville. I remember when he was a senior in high school, I played baseball and I went to watch the semifinal game of my high school. I had heard about him but I didn’t really know much about him because I didn’t even play lacrosse then.

But since we’ve been playing Syracuse, I’ve gotten to know him a little bit especially over summer when I see him back in Chicago. He’s a really good guy and an extremely good athlete, one of the fastest players out there. It should be fun being able to see him again and for the last time. I don’t really get to see guys from my area real often, but it should definitely be good to play him one more time.

Q: The team has two close games so far in the playoffs and the defense is really coming together. Would you say the defense is reaching its peak as the team enters the championship weekend?
MK: I think so. I think we are getting into our groove. It’s taken a majority of the season to find it, but I think at this point of the season we realize that we have no choice but to get ourselves together. Things are starting to click in all areas of the defense and Bud (Petit) is playing great in goal. Coming off two pretty good defensive games, we’ll look forward to get another good defensive game in against Syracuse this weekend.

Q: What does Bud Petit bring to the team since he has been in the starting lineup?
MK: He has brought a lot to the table, especially intensity. Bud is not your typical goalie. He is someone that plays with a lot of emotion. He’s not really too concerned with the little things of the game. He sure gets excited when he is out there on the field, especially after he makes a big save. With this being his fifth year he knows what he has to do.

Q: How does playing an explosive offense like Syracuse affect the defense’s preparation?
MK: It has some magnitude to the way we prepare. Certainly we have to do some different things. It’s a little different than playing a team like Maryland, who’s got a whole different bunch of offensive sets.

Like I said before, Syracuse is not too complicated of a team. They are just a bunch of good, fast, strong, big players running around who like to exploit their athletic ability. For us that is one of our best attributesour athletic ability with our defense.

We know we need to bring our speed and our strength to the table this week.

Q: Growing up in Chicago, which is not exactly the hot bed of lacrosse, what did you know about the Virginia/Syracuse rivalry before you came to here?

MK: Not much. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how long it had been going on. I knew something about it just because I think I had seen them play on Memorial Day on TV when I was younger. This last couple of years I’ve gotten to learn a lot about it.

I obviously didn’t realize how recent the rivalry was. I thought maybe it could have gone back a couple of decades but it hasn’t. I think it is what every fan wantsa high paced, fun, exciting, intense game.

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