May 2019 was an emotional month for Virginia Men’s Lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany. His No. 5 ranked squad claimed the title of ACC tournament champions — to go along with finishing atop the standings in the regular season — giving Virginia its first conference title in the sport since 2010. They would go on to receive the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, breeze by Robert Morris, and pull out a dramatic victory over Maryland in the quarterfinals.
This earned the Hoos their first trip to Championship Weekend since winning it all in 2011, but before heading to Philadelphia, PA for a shot at a national title, Tiffany had to head home to bury his father, Bradford.
The following weekend, Tiffany would capture his first National Championship as a head coach as the Cavaliers capped off another dramatic comeback against Duke and cruised to victory against then-reigning champion Yale. It was Tiffany’s second trip to Championship Weekend — he led his alma mater Brown to the semifinals in 2016 — and only his third year at the helm of the Cavaliers.
Now, one year later (and in the midst of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic), Tiffany has had time to look back and reflect on some of those monumental life moments.
“I will admit it’s been a little harder, and maybe that’s because it’s the month of May,” Tiffany told Streaking the Lawn via Zoom. “There are certain milestones that occur in May with all the different weekends, and playoff lacrosse, and what happened last year, and great memories, and certainly — you know for me personally — burying my father in May.”
His father had passed just before the season started in January, but the frozen ground in Upstate New York postponed the service until the spring. Thanks to an act of generosity from a team parent, Tiffany was able to use a private jet to return home to LaFayette, New York, attend his father’s funeral, and make it back to Charlottesville without missing a practice.
Throughout the entirety of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Tiffany was intent on looking forward. He didn’t want to let the 2019 title drive — or more importantly define — either him or his team. “We emphasized so much this past fall, ‘We’ve got to move on, we’ve got to move on,’ and I was guilty of not moving on because I would use references like, ‘Well hey, last year we were doing this, this, and this,’ and that was connecting something I didn’t want the men thinking about,” Tiffany stated. “I didn’t want them to always be thinking about last year. We had to move forward.”
But now, with nothing but time and his team technically staying the reigning champs, Tiffany has allowed himself a little bit of reflection. In both the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 2019 NCAA tournament, the Cavaliers looked dead to rights. Against Maryland, they trailed by four with under four minutes to play before a furious comeback that ended with an overtime game-winning goal from Matt Moore. In the semis against Duke, the Blue Devils had the ball with 1:17 left in the game, up by two. Terry Lindsay inexplicably turned it over, sailing a pass over his teammate’s head on a restart. That gave Virginia the ball back, and they proceeded to score two goals in the final 46 seconds before an Ian Laviano goal won it in double overtime.
So which did Tiffany think was more improbable?
“[The] Maryland game when we’re down four, with about four minutes left, and we’re on defense, and the defense was in front of our end,” Tiffany recalled. “We had a shot clock ticking away, and Maryland just going to probably kill the clock.”
Above all else, when Tiffany reflects on last year, he credits his men for their no-quit attitude. Led by seniors like defenseman Logan Greco and midfielder Ryan Conrad, the team self-imposed strict conduct rules and attempted to shift the program’s culture. The results were obvious on the field, and the off-field measures were met with high praise from the head coach
“The reality was that they had sacrificed much more than any other team I’ve been a part of, and what I mean by that is Saturday night and social decision making,” Tiffany explained. “It was probably some of the most severe restrictions that they self-placed on themselves. To me when I reflect back, it finally makes sense what I recognized: the more you sacrifice for something, the less likely you are to give up and walk away from it.”
We won’t know if the Cavaliers would have returned to Championship Weekend in 2020, but Tiffany will return a lot of the same pieces that helped hoist the trophy one year ago. Dynamic attacker Michael Kraus will be gone and playing professionally for the Connecticut Hammerheads, but incoming Merrimack transfer Charlie Bertrand will help lessen the loss there. Long stick midfielder Jared Conners will return, and there’s a distant chance Dox Aitken will also be back in the midfield.
For now, Tiffany — who has set up an office in his garage at home — is trying to ready himself and his team for an uncertain fall. “What we’ve been doing for the team is doing some Zoom calls, watching some film, and watching two teams play where Virginia’s not one of the two teams just so we can watch film and get a perspective of what it’s like to break down a game,” Tiffany said animatedly. “If you’re the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, what are you looking for?”
While he doesn’t want to look back, it won’t hurt to watch the highlights one more time (ok, more than once).