PHILADELPHIA — During Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany’s first couple of seasons on Grounds, the Cavaliers held defensive team meetings in a space in the bowels of University Hall known as “The Bunker.”
On Saturday, U-Hall’s implosion brought that chapter of Cavalier lacrosse history to a close, but those meetings in the dimly lit, dingy bunker will always hold special meaning to Tiffany, because it’s where the defense began what he called its “cerebral growth.”
That growth culminated Monday in Lincoln Financial Field with the Cavaliers holding the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense to its lowest goal total of the season in a 13-9 victory over Yale, which clinched Virginia’s sixth national title in program history and first since 2011.
“That’s where we planted the seeds, and what I’ve really enjoyed in year three is when our defense gets together for that 20 or 25 minutes, there’s feedback, there’s back and forth and the men are coming to the meeting with their own ideas,” Tiffany said. “They’ve taken ownership of their success and it showed on the field.”
Yale (15-4) scored 26 goals in the first quarters of its previous three NCAA Tournament games, but through the opening 15 minutes on Monday, Virginia (17-3) held the Bulldogs to just one.
Things didn’t get much better for the defending national champions. In the first half, Yale went more than 16 minutes without a goal, and it managed just two by halftime. And those two were scored on a man-up situation and on an empty net with UVa goalie Alex Rode behind the cage tussling for a loose ball.
“It’s just a great group of guys and they played so well, and they were just flying all over,” Rode said of the defense, “and that was a very good offense. It was just a treat to be able to be out there with them.”
The Bulldogs went into the title game ranked No. 2 in the country with 15.94 goals a game, and their previous low in a game was 10 in a season-opening loss to Villanova. Yale’s offense has been so hot this postseason that late in the fourth quarter it broke the record of 66 goals UVa set during its 2006 NCAA Tournament run.
On Monday, though, the Bulldogs’ fast-paced offense was slowed by the Cavaliers’ methodical tempo, and Virginia’s defenders forced 15 of Yale’s 20 turnovers.
With 4:30 left in regulation, Yale scored three unanswered goals to cut Virginia’s lead to four, but that’s as close as the Bulldogs could get.
“It’s tough for sure, but you can’t really think of the last play,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “You’ve got to keep moving forward and try to attack the next one with a clear mind and give it everything you’ve got. Virginia’s defense and their goalie played well today and unfortunately it wasn’t our day.”
Rode collected nine saves by halftime. He followed 19 stops in Saturday’s Final Four win over Duke with 13 on Monday and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“We owe this game to Rode. Without him playing a great game, we wouldn’t be here,” fifth-year senior defender Logan Greco said. “He saved us a bunch of times when we made defensive mistakes. That saved our butts today and it’s why we held one of the best offenses in the country to only nine points.”
Offensively, Matt Moore led Virginia with four goals and one assist. Kraus finished with three goals, while Aitken added two.
Moore scored Virginia’s first two goals of the game, and the second moved him past former Cavalier Doug Knight for most points in a season. Moore finished his sophomore year with 89 points (46 goals, 43 assists), but making history was secondary to winning a title.
“It’s national title over everything,” Moore said. “This has been such a great experience, and we really came out today and I feel like we played all four quarters. That’s something we struggled with in the playoffs, and I feel like our final game, playing as a team and the defense flying around and getting ground balls is the perfect ending to a great story.”
“The Bunker” is no more, but with how Virginia’s defense ended Tiffany’s third season as its head coach, he might have to scour the bowels of the team’s new home, the McCue Center, for a suitable replacement.