The 2020 Men’s Lacrosse season kicks off on Saturday as the Hoos welcome No. 14 Loyola to town. This week, we here at Streaking the Lawn will be taking an in-depth look at the 2020 Cavaliers as we break down the offense, defense, midfield, and specialists. But before we can look ahead, let’s take one last opportunity to look back on a special 2019 season.
Virginia got off to a rocky start, falling at Loyola in a 17-9 drubbing. It was one of just two games on the season where the Hoos failed to score at least 10 goals (a loss at Duke being the other), and it left Virginia with a lot of questions to answer. After a win against Lehigh, the Cavaliers dropped a mid-week contest against High Point (and their star Asher Nolting) in overtime.
That rocky start, however, helped the Cavaliers find their roots and set the standard for the rest of the season. “We lost two out of the first three games, and we kind of had to just look ourselves in the mirror because we knew we were a talented team, and we knew that we were putting in the work on the field, in practice, and in the weight room,” Dox Aitken said of their early season struggles at media availability this week. “It made us kind of take a look at ourselves and really kind of get us back to ground zero. It made us go back to work harder after two pretty devastating losses.”
Well, after the first three games, things really got cooking. Virginia won eight straight contests, and achieving a 3-0 mark in ACC play with victories over Syracuse, Notre Dame, and North Carolina. The first three games of the win streak all featured overtime victories — something that would become a bit of a calling card for these Cardiac Cavaliers — including a dramatic comeback on the road against Syracuse.
That win streak saw the offense get clicking as the Hoos beat Johns Hopkins (16-11), Richmond (16-7), and new program Utah (17-6) in back-to-back-to-back games.
The success in the ACC was a welcome sight as Virginia built off its lone conference win over North Carolina in 2018. Virginia finished 3-1 in conference play with its only loss coming against Duke on the road. That mark in the ACC was enough to earn the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, but Virginia to face the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill in the semifinals as UNC was the host site.
Once again, the Cavaliers were down big late — trailing the Heels 12-8 with just over 12:30 left in the fourth quarter — before storming back to earn a spot in the ACC title game.
In the conference title game against Notre Dame, things played out a little differently. The score was knotted at 2-2 after one quarter of action, but the Cavalanche hit as Virginia scored eight straight goals spanning two-and-a-half quarters to take a 10-2 lead. Notre Dame would score the final two goals of the game, but it was the Wahoos that would lift the ACC tournament trophy for the first time since 2010.
Virginia earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and hosted Robert Morris for the first game. Seniors Mikey Herring (six goals) and Ryan Conrad (five goals) led the way with career-high goals for each in their final home game at Virginia as the Hoos rolled to a 19-10 win.
In the tournament quarterfinals, Virginia faced a familiar foe in the Maryland Terrapins. The first half was a back-and-forth affair with the Terps holding a narrow 6-5 lead at the break. A goal from Dox Aitken tied things at 7-all with 6:42 remaining in the third, but Maryland scored five straight to build a 12-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then things got nuts. Virginia scored with 9:23 remaining to pull within four, but couldn’t get any closer until Conrad’s third goal of the game made it 12-9 with just under 3:30 remaining. Thanks to timely scoring, face off domination from first year Petey LaSalla, and a favorable goal call, the Cavaliers tied things up with 1:14 left in regulation.
Despite some good looks at the cage, Virginia was unable to score in the final minute, and the game went to overtime. LaSalla’s 17th face off win (out of 25 total attempts) gave the Hoos the ball first, and Matt Moore found pay dirt to send Virginia back to championship weekend for the first time since 2011.
Waiting for Virginia in the semifinals was the Cavaliers’ long time nemesis: Duke. Things looked dire once again as the Blue Devils led by two in the fourth quarter, with possession, with the shot clock turned off. Duke threw the ball away on a clear attempt, giving Virginia a sliver of hope.
Michael Kraus scored with 46 seconds left to bring Virginia back within one, and Ian Laviano tied things at 12-12 with 15 seconds left. The Cavaliers nearly ended things in regulation, but Kraus hit the pipe and the game went to overtime. Goalie Alex Rode came up with a couple huge saves (of his total 18 saves in the game) in the first overtime period, and Laviano sealed the deal in double OT with his fourth goal of the game.
Just like the turnaround from nail-biter to easy win in the ACC tournament, Virginia jumped all over Yale in the title game early and often. The Hoos led 6-2 at the break as LaSalla did his best to negate the country’s best face off man in TD Ierlan, and Rode picked up where he left off as he picked up eight first half saves.
Yale attempted to keep the pressure on with the first two goals of the second half to get within two, but Virginia responded with five goals to take an 11-4 lead into the final quarter. Laviano sealed the victory with an open net goal, and Virginia would win its sixth NCAA title in program history, 13-9. Rode earned the tournament Most Outstanding Player nod with 31 saves over two games.
Virginia finished the season 17-3 (3-1 ACC), and got several record book level performances. Midfielder-turned-attackman Matt Moore finished with 46 goals and 43 assists, becoming the first UVA player to notch a 40/40 season and breaking Doug Knight’s single season points (86 in 1996) record. Aitken finished with 52 points on the season, breaking his own record for points scored by a midfielder in a season from the year before (51). Ryan Conrad had 12 of his 31 goals in the postseason.
The Cavaliers had six players earn USILA All-American status, led by Conrad, Aitken, and defender Jared Conners on the first-team. Kraus was second-team, and defender Logan Greco joined Moore on the honorable mention squad.