A couple years ago, former University of Denver men’s lacrosse coach Jamie Munro called Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany with a question.
He asked what traits and characteristics Tiffany looked for when recruiting defensemen.
Tiffany rattled off a list.
Munro responded: “OK, it’s game day. What characteristics and qualities are you looking for in the defensemen who actually play?”
Almost mindlessly, Tiffany began to answer, but his words trailed off amid a realization. The traits he was looking for in high school defenders did not match those of the men stepping on the field.
“We value, more so on game day as college coaches, communication, comprehension of slide schemes and making those innate, intelligent plays,” Tiffany said. “They’re harder to pick up when you’re sitting on the sidelines at a recruiting event watching a bunch of 16-year-olds, but they’re absolutely critical.”
Now when recruiting defenders, Tiffany begins with three traits: communication, comprehension and lacrosse IQ. They are the foundation of a great defender in his scheme, and they’re the qualities sophomore Kyle Kology stepped on Grounds with in 2017 as a walk-on.
“He just has an innate sense of where to be on the field, how to back up shots, when to slide and how to pick up tough ground balls,” Tiffany said. “I’m just very fortunate to have a man with Kyle’s experience and insight on the field.”
Now with two full seasons as a starter under his belt, Kology plays an integral role in the Cavaliers’ defense, which heads into Saturday’s NCAA Tournament opener on the heels of one of its most dominant defensive performances in years.
Last weekend, Virginia beat Notre Dame 10-4 to win its first ACC Tournament title since 2010. It was the fewest goals the Cavaliers have allowed in a game since 2016. Kology operates in the middle of that defense in a spot reserved for the headiest of defenders.
“You don’t have to cover as much, but you have to be smart with the decisions of sliding or staying and communicating to all the other five defenders on the field,” Virginia defensive coordinator Kip Turner said. “He understands the game, and he has played a lot of lacrosse in his life.”
Kology was a two-time first-team all-state pick at Chatham High School in New Jersey and helped his team win a 2016 New Jersey state championship. In two seasons at Virginia, he has started 32 of a possible 35 games and he has 26 caused turnovers.
The 6-foot-4 former basketball player was on Turner’s radar back when he was on Tiffany’s staff at Brown, but the head coach was less enthused about the young defender’s prospects. Even when Kology showed up in Charlottesville as a walk-on, Tiffany was less than optimistic.
“I remember telling him when he visited as a high school senior ‘Kyle, I don’t care if you come to Virginia or not. I’m not going to give you any preferential treatment. If you come here, I’ll give you a three-day tryout. That’s all I’ll guarantee,’” Tiffany said. “Two days in, I remember telling myself ‘Thank goodness he chose Virginia.’”
Academics were always high on Kology’s list. Before choosing Virginia, he was also accepted at University of California-Berkeley. His teammates say that intelligence shows up on the field.
“Kyle is always the smartest guy on the field,” fifth-year senior defender Logan Greco said. “He just picks up on things and concepts that it took me a while to pick up. He’s always making up for our mistakes.”
Greco is the only member of the Cavaliers’ defense not expected back next year. This season, Kology started all but one game this season. He was joined by freshman Cade Saustad, sophomore Will Rock and junior Jared Conners. Rock and Conners double as long stick midfielders.
“Defense has been our thinnest position here at Virginia,” Tiffany said, “but in a couple years, I hope I’m not saying that anymore.”