By Joseph Santoliquito
For Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/27/19
They were aware of the history, the rich past of Virginia lacrosse and its NCAA tournament berths, ACC titles and national championships.
But Virginia had not been “Virginia” in some time. The last time the Cavaliers won the NCAA championship dated back to 2011. In 2016, legendary coach Dom Starsia, the all-time winningest coach in Division I lacrosse history with 375 victories, was fired. It wasn’t a pretty parting.
The program was in some upheaval.
Lars Tiffany changed all of that – with the help of foundation players like Dox Aitken (Haverford School), Matt Moore (Garnet Valley), Dave Smith (Shawnee) and Justin Schwenk (Spring-Ford).
Tiffany’s vision came to fruition on Monday when the Cavaliers beat defending national champion Yale, 13-9, before 31,528 for the NCAA title at Lincoln Financial Field – thanks to a game-high four goals and an assist from Moore, two goals from Aitken and stellar defense from Smith (two groundballs, one caused turnover) and Schwenk (2 of 8 faceoffs, one caused turnover).
The national championship was the sixth in Virginia’s history (1972, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2019).
Moore and Aitken were named to the all-tournament team. Moore’s five points (4g, 1a) set a Virginia single-season record for points (89) in a season (46 goals, 43 assists), surpassing the previous mark of Doug Knight’s 86 points (56g, 30a) in 1996.
It meant a little more for Moore that the record came at the Linc, close to home.
“Coach (Sean) Kirwan (Virginia’s offensive coordinator) does a great job of — we had one or two days to prepare for Yale, and he called us in for a meeting right away,” Moore said. “He had watched the film, the whole coaching staff had, and he does a great job of simple game plans, and our game plan today was to possess the ball, because they were so strong in the face-off part.
“I feel like we did a good job possessing, and I feel like that’s a big part of why we won the game, and especially those ground balls, those 50/50 ground balls, I feel like we wanted it more today. I feel like that’s the main reason why we won the game.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a while now. I came to a bunch of Eagles games. I’ve dreamed of this since I was a kid, and I can’t believe it, it’s just awesome, being here with my teammates and celebrating.”
Yale had one lead, 1-0, and there were two ties, 1-1 and 2-2. Yale went 16:18 between its first and second goals. The Bulldogs were then stuck on ‘2,’ going 12:05 between their second and third goals.
While the Bulldogs were stuck on ‘2,’ going 12:05 between their second and third goals, Virginia scored four-straight goals, before Yale’s John Danigellis snapped the dry spell off an assist from TD Ierlan.
The closest Yale got after that was 6-4, when the Cavaliers responded with a five-goal tear to secure their first national championship in eight years.
“We set our mind to a mission and this just shows how close our team is,” said Aitken, whose second goal with 12:29 left to play gave Virginia a commanding 12-5 lead. “Times were tough all throughout the year.
“We were down a lot this year, and we trusted each other. Winning this here, for me, who’s been to Eagles’ games is a little special. I found the grass is a lot nicer than I thought it was. I love the Eagles and always dreamed about playing on this field.
“Doing it with this group makes it that much more special.”
Smith, who’s listed as 5-foot-9, 175 pounds out of Shawnee High School, was a one-man wrecking squad. He smashed through Yale’s powerful dangerous 6-1, 220-pound attack Matt Gaudet late in the third quarter and was a pesky thorn in Yale’s side all afternoon.
“What’s sweet about this is a lot of people looked down on us for a time,” Smith said. “The juniors and seniors on this team knew what it was like to lose and be doubted. No one doubts us now.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the juniors and seniors, of all of the leaders on this team for bringing us back to success.”
NCAA all-tournament team:
Alex Rode – UVA (MOP)
Matt Brandau – YALE
Dox Aitken (Haverford School) – UVA
TD Ierlan – YALE
Grant Ament (Haverford School) – PSU
Ryan Conrad – UVA
Matt Moore (Garnet Valley) – UVA
Ian Laviano – UVA
Cade Saustad – UVA
Brad Smith – DUKE