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Virginia's Michael Kraus (left) is pressured by Lehigh's Parker Kent during a game earlier this season at Klockner Stadium. Kraus returned last weekend after missing three games with a lower extremity injury and is second on the team with 21 goals and 23 assists. 

When the final horn sounded on last season’s ACC Tournament championship game in Klöckner Stadium, Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany didn’t let his team rush into the locker room. He gathered the Cavaliers on the sideline and they watched Notre Dame’s celebration unfold.

“We told our men during that moment ‘they won something today. They came here to win a championship and they’ve done it on our field,’” Tiffany said.

A little more than a year ago, the Cavaliers rolled into the postseason fresh off ending an 18-game ACC losing streak. Virginia opened the conference tournament with a win in the semifinals over Syracuse. Back on their home field barely 24 hours later, the Wahoos trailed Notre Dame from the beginning and lost the title game, 17-7.  

The poignant moments after the game still resonate in the Cavaliers’ locker room.

“I remember sitting there watching them celebrate, putting on the hats and the shirts and everything like that,” fifth-year defender Logan Greco said. “That’s been motivation for the last 365 days. I have a vivid memory of that, and I know a lot of guys on this team do.”

“We’ve had a bitter taste in our mouth since that loss,” junior attack Michael Kraus added. “It’s tough watching another team celebrate a championship on your home turf. You remember that and you use it as fuel.”

Virginia (12-6) gets a shot at revenge at 2 p.m. on Saturday as Notre Dame (8-5) returns to Klöckner to once again determine the ACC champion. The Cavaliers currently rank No. 4, according to Inside Lacrosse, and No. 5 in the USILA Coaches Poll. Notre Dame is No. 8/9.

“Last year, we were just excited to get to the championship game. We were all excited to beat ‘Cuse. We all had the jitters and happiness and joy about making the championship,” Greco said. “This year, it’s a different mentality. We’re excited to be there, but it’s go time and it’s our time to win an ACC championship.”

The Cavaliers are a year older and wiser. Having spent the bulk of the season ranked in the top 10 in the country, there’s also a different feeling in the locker room.

“We believe in ourselves more, and our confidence is higher,” said Kraus, who returned last weekend after missing three games with a lower extremity injury and is second on the team with 21 goals and 23 assists. “We’re not waiting on someone to make a play. We believe in ourselves to make a play.”

In a year’s time, Virginia has replaced questions about simply winning an ACC game with inquiries about winning a conference title and turning it into a deep NCAA Tournament run.

“From last year to this year, this team has just grown,” Greco said. “Defensively, we’re significantly better at sliding. Stuff that was exposed during that Notre Dame game, we’ve cleaned up. And really just our mentality has changed. We don’t deserve to be here, we’ve earned [the right] to be here.”

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Ron Counts covers University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress.​ Contact him at rcounts@dailyprogress.com, (434) 978-7245, or on Twitter @Ron_CDPsports.

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