In the sport of lacrosse, few men can be described as legends.
With a Division I-record 375 wins, 13 Final Fours, six national title game appearances, and four championships in the greatest era of parity that the sport has seen, Dom Starsia could be the greatest coach in the history of the game. His 24th season at the University of Virginia was his last, the school announced late Monday afternoon.
After a couple weeks of twisting in the wind, UVa fans, as well as the now-former head coach are forced to pick up the pieces from an ugly sequence that featured reports of his ouster, then of a contract extension, then finally, officially, of his departure from the school. Although the last few days of his tenure were marred by this difficult process, I hope that fans will remember Starsia for what happened in the many years prior to Monday.
He came to Charlottesville in 1993 to take over a team that had gone four straight years without an appearance in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. With no national titles since 1972, the program was dying to get over the hump, and school officials hoped that the 1974 Brown graduate would take Virginia to a new level after leaving his alma mater.
They were back in the quarterfinals in his very first year, and one year later they came one overtime goal shy of ending the title drought. Another overtime defeat to Princeton two years later was demoralizing, to be sure, but in 1999, the stars finally aligned for Starsia and the Hoos with a 12-10 win over Syracuse. Another title in 2003 was followed in 2006 with the first 17-0 season that the game had ever seen.
As the program racked up wins and accumulated hardware, it was the way that Dom Starsia handled the events around the turn of the decade that should serve as the preeminent memory of his time on Grounds.
When placed in the national spotlight after women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love was killed by her ex-boyfriend, a senior on the men's team, Starsia showed admirable grace and class while saying and doing all the right things. In an impossible position, he and the team came through better on the other side.
The next year, Starsia was again placed in a difficult spot as the Bratton brothers, Rhamel and Shamel, repeatedly broke team rules. The players voted to dismiss Shamel from the team and suspend Rhamel indefinitely, and it appeared that the internal strife, as well as an 8-5 record, would threaten - if not doom - the team's NCAA tournament hopes.
Four weeks later, on a hot day on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Starsia received a cooler of ice water over the back as the Cavaliers claimed their fifth NCAA championship. Through the trials and tribulations of the last 13 months, Starsia again led his team to the pinnacle of the sport while becoming the winningest coach in Division I history.
The 2011 season was his last Memorial Day Weekend appearance, with 2012 being the team's last trip to the NCAA quarterfinals. Although his UVa career will not come to an end with a lap around the field with the trophy in Baltimore or Philadelphia or Foxborough, he deserves nothing short of the accolades reserved for the all-time greatest.
Thank you, Dom.