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State of the Program - Men’s Lacrosse

The Hoos are coming off a National Championship, so things are looking great!

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Larry French/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Virginia Men’s Lacrosse team won the program’s sixth National Championship in 2019, defeating Yale in the title game with a defensive performance that would get the Tony Bennett stamp of approval. In just new head coach Lars Tiffany’s third season, the title run put the Cavaliers back in the national discussion ahead of schedule.

After going 0-4 in conference play for three straight seasons — two of which coincided with former head coach Dom Starsia’s final two seasons in Charlottesville — Tiffany’s squad ended an 18-game ACC regular season losing streak in 2018 before winning both the regular season and tournament titles in 2019. Virginia went 3-1 in conference, falling to Duke in the regular season.

Virginia earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, winning several heart-stopping games en route to the final weekend. The NCAA title helped the Cavaliers secure the Capital One Cup and was the first in lacrosse since the improbable 2011 run.

UVA Men’s Lacrosse Five Year Results

Virginia Men’s Lacrosse Five Year Results

Year Record ACC Record; Rank Postseason Result
Year Record ACC Record; Rank Postseason Result
2019 17-3 3-1; ACC CHAMPS!!! NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!
2018 12-6 1-3; Runner-up NCAA First Round
2017 8-7 0-4; Missed Tourney None
2016 7-8 0-4; Missed Tourney None
2015 10-5 0-4; Missed Tourney NCAA First Round

2019 Recap

2019 Stars: Ryan Conrad, Ian Laviano, Dox Aitken, Matt Moore, Petey LaSalla, Michael Kraus, Cade Saustad, Alex Rode, Jared Conners

Virginia didn’t get out to the most encouraging start, dropping its opening game on the road at Loyola and falling to High Point at home to start 1-2. The Hoos would go on to win the next eight games, picking up three straight overtime wins against Princeton, Syracuse, and Brown.

Against the Orange, Virginia first showed their flair for the dramatic comeback as the Hoos overcame a four goal deficit with 10 minutes to play in the 4th quarter. The next game out, Virginia would once again finish on a 6-1 run to win a game in overtime, this time against the Brown Bears.

The Hoos improved to 2-0 in the ACC thanks to a big home win over Notre Dame, a game that featured a comeback from down five in the second half. Wins over Johns Hopkins, Richmond, Utah, and North Carolina preceded Virginia’s final loss of the season (at Duke). The regular season concluded with dominating wins over Marist and VMI as the Hoos prepared for the ACC tournament.

Another furious comeback (down four with just over 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter) led Virginia past North Carolina and gave the Hoos a shot at the ACC Championship. Virginia utterly dominated Notre Dame in the title game, winning 10-4. As the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Virginia easily dispatched Robert Morris in the first round to set up a quarterfinal matchup with former ACC foe Maryland.

Once again, the Cavaliers looked to be in a spot of trouble in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. Down five with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter — and down four with 3:30 to play — Virginia used a six-goal run to win in overtime and return to the Final Four. Against Duke, Virginia trailed their nemesis by three with under nine minutes to play, and by two with under 1:30 left (without possession!), but somehow made it happen yet again. Two goals in under a minute tied things, and Virginia would win in double overtime to return to the championship game for the first time since 2011.

The title game was all Virginia. The Hoos held a potent Yale attack in check while jumping out to a comfortable lead. Yale would close within two to start the third quarter, but the Cavaliers rattled off five goals to put things out of reach. Virginia took home the program’s sixth title — and Lars Tiffany’s first — with a 13-9 win.

Second year Matt Moore led the Hoos with 89 points (46 goals, 43 assists) and flourished in his new role on the attack. Moore played midfield in his first season at Virginia, but an opening on attack necessitated a move. It paid off as Moore became a proficient passer and an asset on Virginia’s riding game on the clear.

Fellow second year Ian Laviano led the team with 56 goals, and attackman Michael Kraus overcame injury issues to finish with 39 goals and 36 assists. In the midfield, Dox Aitken scored 44 goals and broke his own single-season scoring record for a midfielder at Virginia.

The biggest loss for the Hoos will be midfielder Ryan Conrad, a two-way midfielder that did a little bit of everything (team captain, 31 goals, 18 assists, 95 ground balls). His postseason performance (12 goals) was critical and a huge benefit after he returned from an ACL injury that ended his season last year.

Specialists were also a huge deal for the Cavaliers as first year face off man Petey LaSalla was stellar (59% at the X on the season), and second year goalkeeper Alex Rode shone in the playoffs as he was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

2020 Outlook

Key Returners: Ian Laviano, Dox Aitken, Matt Moore, Petey LaSalla, Michael Kraus, Cade Saustad, Alex Rode, Jared Conners

If you notice, almost all of those big players named above will be back. Fourth years Dox Aitken and Michael Kraus (who will be captains next season along with Jared Conners and John Fox) return to anchor the Cavaliers. Aitken and Conners are coming off of a season where they were named first team USILA All-America, with Kraus (third team) and Matt Moore (Honorable Mention) also getting recognized.

Defensively, Conners will be joined by players like Cade Saustad, Will Rock, and Kyle Kology. Rode returns, and with Patrick Burkinshaw transferring to Penn, will be the favorite to get the starting job in cage (although Tiffany makes them earn it each week). Dave Smith is a huge loss as a short stick defensive midfielder, but Fox showed he’s a capable player. Incoming first year defender Scott Bowers is a five-star rated commitment by Inside Lacrosse and will be joined by four-stars Jake Giulieri and Quentin Matsui on the defensive end.

Offensively, the notable stars are back, but will be joined by Payton Cormier (missed last season with a knee injury) and five-star first year Connor Shellenberger on attack. On the latest Virginia Athletics podcast with Jeff White, Coach Tiffany said Moore would stay on attack after posting the first ever 40 goal, 40 assist season in Virginia history.

At the X, LaSalla will return as one of the strongest face off men in the country, and will have five-star Gavin Tygh joining him for depth.

The Hoos are ahead of schedule on the program rebuild, but picking up the 2019 National Championship is hopefully the first of many trophies.