By Matthew De George
For Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/28/19
The jobs that Dave Smith (Shawnee) does rarely show up on the University of Virginia stat sheet.
Sometimes, for the short-stick defensive middie, that’s the whole point of his time on the field – to not pick up penalties, to not lose possession, to quietly be part of a daunting six-man defensive unit and uneventfully get stops and clears.
Monday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, the Cavaliers senior co-captain added to his array of off-field jobs. Like being the one to lead a jubilant group of Cavaliers sprinting over to the orange-clad masses in the stands to celebrate after a 13-9 win over Yale in the NCAA Division I final.
Or, more importantly, as guardian of the championship trophy as the team went from the locker room to the bus to the team tailgate in the parking lot.
“This thing’s not leaving my side,” Smith said. “It’s been a dream, been a goal my entire life. It’s going to sleep in my bed tonight, I can tell you that.”
Smith, a Medford, N.J., native, is the statistical outlier among Virginia’s three captains. There’s Michael Kraus, a third-team All-American in attack with 39 goals and 36 assists. There’s midfielder Ryan Conrad, a first-team All-American with 31 goals, 18 assists and an unbelievable 95 groundballs. And if you scroll way down the stat sheet, you’ll find Smith: Zero goals, three assists, 12 GBs (two Sunday) and seven caused turnovers.
But without players like Smith, Virginia doesn’t win a national championship.
“Our senior class is a group that does a lot of the dirty work and the work that doesn’t get noticed,” midfielder and Haverford School grad Dox Aitken said. “Ryan does it all and gets noticed, but there are guys that have worked their butts off for four years and haven’t seen a ton of credit.
“They just set a great example the entire year, and you saw it today. I’m just so happy that Dave and all those guys made a bunch of great plays and I’m happy that the lacrosse world was able to see that because there’s so much hard work that went into that.”
“Dave all year has been a really big juice guy on our team, just motivating everybody,” faceoff guy Petey LaSalla said. “You saw it today, he had a couple of huge hits, which got everyone on the bench going.”
One other trait that differentiates Smith and his fellow co-captains: Neither of them nearly got cut from the team, as Smith did when Lars Tiffany came in after the 2016 season. But Smith took it in stride, and in redoubling his work ethic, has become someone Tiffany lauds as “a glue guy” who “defines grit.”
He’s bounced around positions, getting some run at faceoff in years past but never coming close to his offensive production – 118 goals, 62 assists – as a two-way middie at Shawnee.
“I always joke with the coaches that they almost cut me when they came in,” he said. “That would’ve sucked, so I’m happy that they didn’t, and I would hope that they’re happy that they didn’t. … I know I was in that next bubble right there.
“But it’s all good, right. Every day you’ve got to come out and work hard, and I try to live my life with that. If you’re not outworking your opponent, you’re doing it wrong.”
In a physical game where both teams were allowed to play, Smith had a moment that stood out. He scooped a GB in front of Alex Rode’s cage, and when a Yale defender went high to try and separate him from the ball, he ducked under the check, sending the defender flying in a moment straight out of a schoolyard slapstick routine.
You bet the bench noticed.
“I think I had my adrenaline pumping,” Smith said. “I had a hit a couple of minutes before that I was pretty amped up for. The ball just went my way, and in high school, people would fly at me all the time and I used to do that, I used to table-top people.
“My high school football coach will laugh about it and my high school lacrosse coach will laugh about it. It’s something I haven’t had an opportunity to do in college yet, but it just felt natural.”
It fits into the narrative of the South Jersey native providing a little more sandpaper to his game than most. While it’s not exactly the most fertile ground for young lacrosse players, Smith did enjoy watching Cabrini’s Jordan Krug, a Marlton native who attended his rival high school Cherokee, lift the Division III trophy the day before, Krug finishing as the Cavs’ leading scorer and a Division III All-American.
“I get messed around with a little bit about having that Jersey grit, but you see a lot of d middies come out of South Jersey and it’s funny to see that,” Smith said. “I think they’ve unbelievable, and Krug, I’ve played with him since I was a little kid and he’s an incredible player, I couldn’t be happier for them. South Jersey, I don’t think it’ll ever be a hotbed, but it’s nice to see some guys have some success there.”
Smith’s success is one for the record books, even if the stats don’t tell the tale. He’ll forever be remembered as one of the captains that led Virginia back to the promised land, a sixth national title after eight years without one. It’s a journey, that when Smith thinks through it, required that bit of grit.
“It takes a whole team,” he said. “It’s not just me, it’s not just the captains. It’s the leadership around that, it’s Lars Tiffany and crew, and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys. We’ve seen failure, we’ve seen 0-4 seasons in the ACC, we’ve been the laughingstock of the NCAA. And to come back up, it’s amazing.”