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Virginia lacrosse earns basketball comparisons with dramatic run to the National Championship game

Is it, in fact, the year of the Hoo?

NCAA Lacrosse: Men’s Championship-Semifinal-Virginia vs Duke Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Lars Tiffany took over the Virginia Men’s Lacrosse program in the fall of 2016, just months after he led the Brown Bears to the national semifinals in May of the same year. Brown fell in a heart-breaker to Maryland, coming up just short of battling for a National Championship. Now, Tiffany and the Cavaliers have reached the final game of the season as Virginia will face Yale, the reigning national champs, on Monday with the hopes of raising the championship trophy.

In his first two seasons in Charlottesville, Tiffany studied the program he took over and began to implement his style. He took over for the legendary Dom Starsia, a coach that roamed the sidelines at UVA for 24 years, inheriting some outstanding players and incoming recruits. Things weren’t easy as the Hoos went 20-13 (1-7 ACC) over 2017 and 2018. He instituted “Cultural Thursdays” to help his players grow off the field, and the players have bought into the premise of changing the culture around the program.

Virginia’s recent stretch of dramatic finishes has given the team a feeling of the “team of destiny” vibe the men’s basketball team carried through its run to the National Championship. Here’s a little taste of the deficits the Hoos’ faced in games this season:

  • Syracuse - 4 goals with 9:03 remaining in the 4th quarter
  • Brown - 4 goals with 11:14 remaining in the 4th quarter
  • Notre Dame - 5 goals with 9:02 remaining in the 3rd quarter
  • UNC (ACCT) - 4 goals with 12:11 remaining in the 4th quarter
  • Maryland (NCAA) - 5 goals with 9:25 remaining in the 4th; 4 goals with 3:30 remaining in the 4th
  • Duke (NCAA) - 4 goals with 7:03 remaining in the 3rd quarter; 2 goals with 1:00 remaining in the 4th

The Hoos would win all six of those games, each building in drama. Virginia’s double overtime victory over Duke broke a fruitless stretch against the Blue Devils that spanned 11 straight games and gave the Cavaliers a shot at their first title since 2011. Each step of the way, the “team of destiny” feel was harder and harder to deny. At first, Coach Tiffany was just honored to be mentioned alongside Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers. “We have heard some of those analogies, starting last weekend at Hofstra, and this weekend as well,” Tiffany said at Sunday’s media availability. “At first I cringed a bit, because what Tony Bennett and his teams have done over the last decade in Charlottesville is fantastic, and the longevity and his ability to sustain that success is something that we have certainly not done.”

But similarities exist beyond the heart-wrenching, close-fought victories. Tiffany has instituted a system that requires the players to buy-in, much like Bennett. The players try to use the shot-clock to find the best shot available, and commit fully to breaking up opponents’ rides and forcing “Tony Bennett closeouts”.

“They have a system, they stick to it, and that’s something we can take from, and it’s really cool that we have an example that we can follow,” midfielder Dox Aitken said of their basketball brethren.

Being on Grounds, it would be hard not to keep an eye on what the basketball team was doing, but the student athletes at Virginia have formed strong and supportive relationships. “I followed it decently closely,” Aitken said of the basketball team’s run. “They were walking around school, and I was in the same class with Mamadi Diakite, who had the game-tying shot in the Elite Eight against Purdue, so that was definitely a cool ride for us just to follow along and get to know some of those guys.”

Point in case: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter all shared highlights of the crazy comeback against Duke in the semifinals in their Instagram stories, most of which were accompanied with encouraging messages. It’s not just limited to the basketball players, either. Multiple members (current and former) of the football team have taken to social media to share support for the lacrosse Wahoos, too.

Virginia will have its hands full with the Bulldogs, but Charles Snowden says it best: