As the 2021-2022 athletic year starts to come to an end for the Virginia Cavaliers, we at Streaking the Lawn will be running a state of the program series for the numerous athletic programs that are a part of the university.
For starters, I’ll take a look at the men’s lacrosse program by evaluating the confidence level in four critical categories: success over the last five years, coaching staff, current roster makeup, and the future roster/recruiting. The four degrees of confidence will be, in descending order, extreme, decent, mild, and low. But that scale won’t be put to much varying use for this evaluation...
Confidence in performance over the last 5 years: Extreme
Nearly six years ago, UVA hired Lars Tiffany to replace his mentor and former coach Dom Starsia as the head coach of the men’s lacrosse program. After a number of down years with Starsia at the helm, Tiffany immediately brought fresh air to a historic program that his former coach Starsia had built before him.
In 2018, Tiffany and his Wahoos ended Virginia’s 15-game losing streak (with the last win coming in 2014) in ACC play and made the NCAA Tournament after the program had missed it the two previous seasons.
In 2019, UVA burst onto the scene for real. After going 11-2 in the regular season, Virginia beat North Carolina and Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament to take the program’s first ACC Championship since 2010. The ‘Hoos followed that up by winning the National Championship with an impressive run of victories over Maryland in the quarterfinals, Duke in the semis, and defending champ Yale in the championship game.
After the 2020 season was cut short by COVID-19, UVA came back in 2021 with a revitalized core and secured its second straight championship by upsetting undefeated Maryland 17-16 in the national championship. Unfortunately, that run as reigning champs came to and end last Sunday when the ‘Hoos fell for the second time this season to the Terps in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Nevertheless, the last five plus seasons have been incredibly successful for the men’s lacrosse program. Along with Maryland (and perhaps even more so), Virginia is likely the most successful team in the sport in the last half decade and there’s no sign of the Wahoos slowing down.
Confidence in coaching staff: Extreme
Part of why the future of the program is so bright is because Tiffany is locked in for the long haul. After signing a contract extension through 2026 this spring, the Brown alum is set to lead the Wahoos for the next four seasons with potential for more as he is only 53 years old. Even beyond his successes on the field, Tiffany’s thoughtful approach to coaching and genuineness as a human being is a perfect fit for UVA.
Coming over from coaching at Brown back in 2016, TIffany brought along his staff which included former UVA goalie Kip Turner — who coaches the goalies and face off specialists —along with offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan. Those two assistant coaches have proven to be two of the top in the country.
In fact, while also coaching as an offensive coordinator in the PLL, Kirwan has received serious head coaching interest after building an offensive juggernaut in Charlottesville. That is something worth tracking as a possible departure would disrupt the coaching stability while also leaving Tiffany searching for a new assistant to lead the offense.
But, for now, the Wahoo coaching staff can rival any other in the nation in regards to tactics, leadership, and culture building.
Confidence in current roster: Extreme
Despite the departure of UVA’s all-time points leader Matt Moore, Virginia is returning a stacked squad for the 2023 season. Frankly, Moore is the only truly notable player leaving while plenty of fourth year are expected to return for fifth years including Cade Saustad, Jeff Conner, Xander Dickson, Payton Cormier, and Petey LaSalla.
Additionally, UVA’s leading scorer and one of the best players in the country Connor Shellenberger is back to play his third year while the entire rotation of long poles are back along with the majority of short stick defenders. And, of course, rising sophomore goalie and ACC Freshman of the Year Matthew Nunes is returning as well along with his classmate and former top-rated freshman Griffin Schutz.
On top of all that, Virginia brings in the top-rated 2022 class with three top-10 recruits in Joey Terenzi (midfield), Truitt Sunderland (midfield), and Mac Eldridge (face-off), along with another five star in defender John Schroter. Those arrivals will be joined by a rumored transfer from Vermont’s big lefty midfielder Thomas McConvey who scored 60 goals (second in the country) for the Catamounts this past season.
That all points to another year of national contention for UVA with next season’s roster potentially even more skilled than the last two years’ squads.
Confidence in future roster/recruiting: Extreme
As for the future of the program’s roster and recruiting, there’s no reason to suggest that Virginia will stop getting the top talent its accustomed to bringing in. UVA is a lacrosse powerhouse and with such an appealing staff and culture there’s plenty of appeal to the best players in the country. With Shellenberger around for two more years that likely means two years of assured national contention before younger guys like Schutz and the 2022 class start to take over.
Tiffany has preached a strategy of reloading rather than rebuilding and that seems to be the case for the foreseeable future as men’s lacrosse stands as one of if not the most successful UVA programs in recent years with one of the brightest futures.