PHILADELPHIA — Trailing by four goals, Yale pulled its goalie late in the fourth quarter of Monday’s national championship game in a desperate attempt to spark a miracle, but all the Bulldogs accomplished was giving Virginia’s Ian Laviano a clean look at his only goal of the day.
Netting a goal without a goalie defending the cage sounds pretty easy, but the angle was severe and Laviano had to put enough English on the shot to bend it around the post. As soon as it nestled into the net, he turned to an orange-clad section of Cavalier fans and pulled each fist across his chest in Clark Kent fashion, revealing the “Virginia” written in blocky letters on the front of his jersey.
Moments later, sticks and gloves filled the air and helmets littered the field when the final horn sounded on Virginia’s 13-9 victory. And after posing for a team picture, the Cavaliers ran across the field to the very same section Laviano posed in front of to celebrate with the UVa faithful.
“We’ve put in so much hard work and been through so much this season, and the fans have been amazing the whole way,” Laviano said. “I almost can’t describe this moment. It’s just a dream come true.”
That dream seemed like a lifetime away in 2016. That’s when head coach Lars Tiffany took over a program struggling to compete in the ACC, much less on a national stage, after racking up many winning seasons under longtime coach Dom Starsia.
But all the tweaks, Sunday weight room sessions and Culture Thursdays culminated in Virginia climbing back to the top of the NCAA lacrosse mountain.
Monday’s win marked Virginia’s sixth NCAA title in program history and its first since 2011.
“Go in my office and physically sit at my desk. There’s five championship trophies at the top of it hanging over me, and you feel that,” Tiffany said. “I’m just so incredibly blessed to coach at a university that cares about its athletic teams and to coach such a dedicated, special group of men.”
Just last season, the Cavaliers ended an 18-game ACC losing streak and a two-year absence from the NCAA Tournament.
Now, they’re national champions.
“It’s so surreal, and I feel like I’m floating on cloud nine,” said UVa senior Ryan Conrad, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL. “We’ve been through so much this year, and I’m just so excited for this team. We fought tooth and nail for this win, and we played our best game of the year.”
On Monday, Virginia shut down Yale’s offense, which ranked No. 2 in the country with 15.94 goals a game. The Cavaliers allowed just two goals in the first half, forced 15 of Yale’s 20 turnovers and held the defending national champion to its lowest goal total of the season.
Last spring, it was Yale celebrating on the field in Gillette Stadium after a finals win over Duke.
“Every little kid dreams about this day, and every time I talk about it, I want to start crying,” fifth-year senior defender Logan Greco said. “[Yale] likes to blitz teams early, so we knew if we could control that first quarter, we had a chance to control the game and slow them down.”
Matt Moore led Virginia with four goals and one assist. He scored UVa’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).
With 6:35 left in the opening half, Virginia’s lead grew to 4-2 after back-to-back netters by Michael Kraus. Dox Aitken and faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla then scored eight seconds apart to stretch Virginia’s run to four unanswered goals and send the Wahoos into halftime with a 6-2 advantage.
Early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs cut the lead to 6-4. With 4:30 left in regulation, they reeled off three straight goals to pull within four, but Laviano’s empty netter shut the door on Yale’s comeback and its chance to repeat as national champion.
“I’m just so proud of this team and all the guys in that locker room,” Laviano said. “There’s no other guys I’d rather take the field with.”
In terms of starters, Virginia only loses Conrad and Greco and valued reserve Mikey Herring to graduation. Laviano, Moore, Kraus, Aitken and goalie Alex Rode — who racked up 32 saves the past two games — are part of a large contingent of starters expected to be back next season in search of a repeat performance.
“This just sets the bar even higher,” Kraus said. “We know how high we can go, and we’re going to set our standard to a higher level and work every day to get there.”