The Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team is getting underway in the NCAA tournament as the Cavaliers host Robert Morris in Charlottesville as the No. 3 overall seed. This is the third season under head coach Lars Tiffany — who was named the ACC Coach of the Year for 2019 — and the Cavaliers won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Now, the Hoos are on to what they’re calling “Phase III” as Virginia attempts to bring home the first NCAA title in men’s lax since 2011.
Virginia’s 2019 campaign has been immensely successful as the Hoos amassed a record of 11-3 (3-1 ACC) in the regular season. What stands out more is that just two seasons ago, the pervasive narrative (rightfully) existed that the Hoos couldn’t get it done in conference play. Before Virginia’s win over North Carolina last season, the Cavaliers had been 1-21 in the regular season against ACC competition in its last 22 tries.
The Cavaliers went 1-15 in ACC play the final three seasons under previous head coach Dom Starsia and started 1-7 in the first two seasons under Tiffany. Now, Tiffany’s players are in place and his fast-paced style is catching on in Charlottesville, and it’s paying off. That’s in no small part to his players buying into the system and working hard to change the culture around the program.
“There’s an analogy for me, personally,” Tiffany said after Virginia’s final game of the regular season against Marist. “The class of 2008 Brown...they were 3-15 going into their senior year, and then we won the Ivy League title. I see an analogy here that there’s a group of guys whose ACC record coming into this season...had two ACC wins, and now we’re able to secure an ACC regular season title.”
That 2008 senior class at Brown University under Tiffany was instrumental in his continued success. The Bears would make the tournament three times in Tiffany’s eight years at the helm — an improvement on the nine-year playoff drought before he took over — and made the Final Four in his final season with Brown in 2016.
Along with accepting a change in style on the field, the Cavaliers have bought in off the field. Tiffany has implemented character and team building events that aim to build the players in to well-rounded men, and leadership from players like Ryan Conrad, Logan Greco, and Dox Aitken has been important. The buy-in isn’t lost on the coach, saying, “I’m grateful for these men to have given a new coaching staff a chance and to really buy into our message.”
Now, the Hoos have one more chance to play in front of a home crowd in Charlottesville as they attempt to hold off a dangerously offensive-minded Robert Morris squad. For a handful of Virginia players, they know their time as a Wahoo is coming to an end, but that their contributions will be important for years to come.
“This is a special place. I’m going to miss this place. There’s nothing like Klöckner,” fifth year defender Greco said after the Marist game. “I don’t want to say good bye, but I’m proud of what we’ve done here as a senior class changing the culture. I want to win a National Championship this year, but if we win one in one, two, three, four years from now, just being able to set that foundation with this senior class and the class before that, is honestly all I care about.”
As “Phase III” gets underway — with Phase I being to win a regular season title and Phase II being to take the ACC tournament title — Virginia’s newly sound defense will have to stand up to a Robert Morris squad that averages nearly 14 goals per game. The Cavalier defense has been much maligned over the past couple seasons, but their performance against Notre Dame in a 10-4 win in the ACC title game has the Hoos seemingly clicking at the right time.
On the flip side, the Virginia offense (which averages 14 points per game), will need to be electric to keep the Hoos going in the postseason. With four players — Ian Laviano, Matt Moore, Dox Aitken, and Michael Kraus — all with 30+ goals and another — Ryan Conrad — one shy of 20, the Cavaliers have the firepower to propel Virginia to the final weekend of the tournament.
We’ll find out how it all starts tonight (Saturday) at 7:30 pm at Klöckner Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.