Tonight, the Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team will play in their first NCAA tournament game since 2015. In that game, the Hoos hosted Johns Hopkins and were out-matched, falling 19-7. Only three current players - all defenders - were on the roster the last time Virginia played in a post season game. One of those players, Cooper Fersen, is redshirting this season. The other two, Scott Hooper and Logan Greco, both start on close defense.
“Just saying it’s a regular game is potentially not telling the men the truth,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said on a teleconference after the tournament selection show. “How do we handle this when very few of our men have been out there. First of all, I’m glad as a defensive coach, that I have some experience.”
Since the sixth game of the season, a close win over Manhattan, the Hoos have started at least six underclassmen. This was, in part, due to the season-ending injury to midfielder Ryan Conrad, but partly because of the influx of young talent the Hoos have seen. This youth has helped Virginia get the program back on track ahead of schedule.
The Hoos are led this season by superstar second year attackman Michael Kraus who, with 43 goals and 37 assists, became just the third Virginia player to ever hit the 80 point mark in a season. The last player to do that? Steele Stanwick in his senior season in 2012. If Kraus notches three more assists this season, he will be the first ever (!!!) Virginia player to hit the 40 goal and 40 assist mark in a single season. With the long list of incredible players that have come before Kraus in Virginia’s illustrious history, that’s an impressive feat.
Kraus, however, may not play due to a head injury he sustained in the ACC title game. He missed Virginia’s final game of the season against VMI, and Coach Tiffany said as recently as Tuesday that Kraus hadn’t practiced and is “day-to-day”.
Alongside Kraus on the attack is first year Ian Laviano, who is tied for second on the team with 35 goals. He scored five to kick off his Virginia career (against Loyola), and has been a welcome addition to the attack. He’s particularly strong in transition, and utilizes a low to high shot that terrorized opposing goalies for the entire season.
In the midfield, Virginia boasts one of the country’s top players in second year Dox Aitken. Aitken is second on the team in points (47) and tied with Laviano for second on the team in goals with 35. He holds the Virginia record for goals and points scored by a first year midfielder with 29 and 40, respectively, last season. This year, he matched Matt Poskay’s single-season points by a midfielder mark (47) set in the 2006 undefeated championship season. He’s just six goals behind Poskay in matching the most goals scored by a Virginia midfielder. So, he’s pretty good.
First year Matt Moore has been incredible this season with 17 goals and 14 assists. He was named the ACC Freshman of the Year, following in Kraus’s footsteps from last season. Fellow first year midfielder Regan Quinn (seven goals, five assists) has provided some bright moments off the bench. At the face off X, second year transfer Justin Schwenk has set a new Virginia record (229 and counting) for face offs won in a single season and is winning 60.1% on the season.
On defense, Will Rock (one goal, five assists, 44 ground balls, 17 caused turnovers) and Kyle Kology (20 ground balls, 12 caused turnovers) have been solid. In cage, first year Alex Rode has performed admirably with a save percentage hovering right around 50%.
Coach Tiffany knows that his young players aren’t immune to the pressure of a big game, nor does he want to completely ignore the topic. “We will talk to our men about the pressure of the situation,” he said. “I don’t want to hide on that and put our head in the sand.”
“For us it’s going to be ‘maintain the process’.” He stated. “The pregame process, the travel process, we just have to make sure it feels just the same as any other game so that all the preparation we’re not getting thrown off.”
While there is certainly the talent and ability for the Hoos to make some noise in this year’s tournament (and in no way should you write them off), this team is rife with young players that will make the Cavaliers dangerous for years to come. Anything that happens this year is setting the foundation for the future.
“For us, the most exciting part of this is we are truly honoring a tremendous legacy,” Tiffany said of Virginia’s selection to the postseason. “Virginia men’s lacrosse has an incredible history, great teams, great men, great coaches have come before us, and being able to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament allows us to get one step closer to really revitalizing this program.”
The present is still in play, but future is bright for the Hoos.
UVA’s window opens next year. Top 3 team in 2019.— Anish Shroff (@AnishESPN) May 7, 2018
The Tiffany-era squad gets their first chance to do some damage in their post-season tonight as they face sixth-seeded Loyola at 7:15pm in Baltimore.