April 14, 2018

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — If the result was familiar to the fans who came out to Klöckner Stadium on a splendid spring afternoon — a Duke win over Virginia — so was another aspect of this ACC men’s lacrosse game Saturday: the spectacular play of Michael Kraus.

Kraus, the ACC’s freshman of the year in 2017, is a 5-11, 195-pound attackman from New Canaan, Connecticut. He totaled 56 points last season, on 34 goals and 22 assists, and he’s elevated his game as a sophomore.

“He’s unbelievable,” said senior Scott Hooper, Virginia’s best defenseman.

With 68 points, on 36 goals and 32 assists, Kraus is far and away UVA’s leading scorer. Next is sophomore midfielder Dox Aitken, who has 39 points.

“Michael is tough and he’s hard-nosed, and he wants to be great, and he continues to work hard,” Virginia offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan said. “That’s all you can ask for as his coach.”

The left-handed Kraus said he’s used his right hand more this season. “I’ve been able to go both ways,” he said, “and that’s helped me a lot.”

That’s not the only way Kraus has improved his game. “He’s putting in the time off the field,” Kirwan said. “He’s working in the film room. He’s really coming into games really prepared, understanding what teams can throw at him, how they’re going to try to defend him. He’s going through his progression.

“I always talk with him about making sure that we’re not forcing anything. Things will open up, and the defense will give him a choice, and he just has to make sure he’s making the right choice.”

No. 10 UVA closed its regular-season ACC schedule Saturday with an 18-13 loss to third-ranked Duke. For the Wahoos, the defeat was their 18th in their past 19 meetings with the Blue Devils, but Kraus played brilliantly.

He finished with four goals and five assists — both team highs — on an afternoon when he often found himself matched against All-America defenseman Cade Van Raaphorst.

“Today we got to see him do it against one of the elite defenses in the nation, and against some of the most athletic and talented defensemen in the nation,” UVA head coach Lars Tiffany said.

Kraus is not, of course, the first member of his family to star in lacrosse at UVA. His father, Steve, who was at Klöckner on Saturday, was a two-time All-American, and Steve’s brother Andy was a three-time All-American.

Steve Kraus still the highest winning percentage on face-offs in UVA history (68.0). Second is Andy Kraus (62.9). In addition to facing off, Andy Kraus was a midfielder who finished his career with 107 points, on 75 goals and 32 assists.

On Saturday, the Blue Devils (11-2 overall, 3-1 ACC) jumped on Virginia early and led 11-6 at halftime. When Duke scored the first goal of the third quarter, the Cavaliers (9-4, 1-3) appeared ready to unravel. But they steadied themselves and responded with five straight goals — Kraus had four points during that run — to make it 12-11 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.

Alas for the `Hoos, they got no closer. Duke sophomore Bryan Smyth, who came in having won only 43 percent of his faceoffs this season, controlled the next draw and scored in transition to make it 13-11.

The Devils then scored the first five goals of the fourth quarter to put the game away. Smyth ended up winning 8 of 14 faceoffs on an afternoon when Duke won 21 of 35. The Devils also picked up 44 ground balls, to 33 for Virginia.

The 18 goals are the most UVA has allowed this season. (The previous high was 15, in a March 24 loss to Johns Hopkins.) Senior attackman Justin Guterding, a second-team All-American last season, led Duke with four goals and five assists Saturday, and his supporting cast dazzled too.

“I think the thing that separates Duke is [that its offensive players] are very good individually, but they’re all just so athletic,” Hooper said. “You face a lot of teams that are strategically very good, but they don’t have the athletes, they don’t have the horses that can run.”

Hooper was one of eight Cavaliers honored in a Senior Day ceremony before the game. He was hoping UVA would find a way to end its long losing streak in this series, but the Devils “obviously brought their best today,” Hooper said. “Tough loss, but we’re on to the next one.”

That’s next Saturday in New Canaan, the hometown of three UVA players: Kraus and freshmen Jackson Appelt and John Fox. At 1 p.m., Virginia meets No. 16 Vermont (10-2).

“I’m really excited for that game,” Kraus said.

UVA closes the regular season March 1 against VMI in Charlottesville. First, however, comes the four-team ACC tournament, which will be held April 27 and 29 at Klöckner Stadium.

Thanks to North Carolina’s overtime loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, Virginia remains fourth in the league standings. Syracuse (4-0 in ACC play) is first, Duke is second, Notre Dame (1-2) is third, and UNC (0-3) is fifth. The Tar Heels and the Fighting Irish meet next Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

To stay in the hunt for an NCAA tournament invitation, the Cavaliers must beat Vermont, and “we know how heavy this game weighs on us,” Kraus said.

One of the Catamounts’ goals will be limiting Kraus’ production. That’s no small task.

“I think teams are starting to realize that they can’t just leave their best defenseman on an island [against Kraus],” Kirwan said. “They feel like they need to slide to him, and then he’s done a fantastic job this year of keeping his head up and to get his hands free and make some big-time feeds for us.”

Hooper knows well what a challenge No. 2 poses to a defense. He sharpens his skills by covering Kraus whenever possible in practice.

“It makes game day a hell of a lot easier,” Hooper said, smiling.