Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany breaks this season down into three phases.
Phase I: Win a regular season ACC title. The Cavaliers accomplished that on April 13 despite a loss at Duke. North Carolina also lost that weekend, securing Virginia’s 25th regular season championship.
Phase II: Win an ACC Tournament title. Virginia’s defense dominated Notre Dame last weekend in a 10-4 rout in the final.
On Saturday, it’s on to phase III: Win a national championship.
No. 3 seed Virginia opens the NCAA Tournament with a prime time game against Robert Morris at 7:30 p.m. in Klöckner Stadium.
“I’m just so blessed to coach a group of young men who share the same vision and understand what it takes to achieve our goals,” said Tiffany, who was named ACC Coach of the Year on Friday.
Virginia (13-3) last won a NCAA Tournament game in 2012 — a 6-5 opening-round victory over Princeton. The Cavaliers have lost their last four tournament openers.
Robert Morris (9-7) comes in as the Northeast Conference champion and on an eight-game winning streak, but Tiffany isn’t concerned with what’s going on outside his locker room.
“We don’t talk about the other team emotionally,” Tiffany said. “We talk about the other teams like who is right handed and who is left handed? What are their man-up plays.”
Tiffany said he has reprimanded players for getting too caught up in pre-game hype.
“I don’t care what they’re thinking. Let’s focus on our emotions,” Tiffany said, adding he hasn’t even talked with the team about the fact that Virginia’s ACC Tournament title was its first since 2010. “If it doesn’t matter and help us win the lacrosse game that day, it’s not important.”
What is important on Saturday is the Cavaliers bringing a defensive performance similar to the one that held Notre Dame scoreless in the second and third quarters.
Robert Morris has some talented scorers, led by senior midfielder Tyson Gibson a three-time all-conference selection and this season’s Northeast Conference Player of the Year. He leads the Colonials with 35 assists and has 27 goals to his credit. Sophomore attack Corson Kealy leads the team with 48 goals, and junior attack Ryan Smith is right behind him with 39.
Tiffany said slowing them down won’t just be on the defense, though. The Cavaliers need freshman faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla, junior long stick midfielder Jared Conners and senior Ryan Conrad to work the same magic on the faceoff X that has Virginia ranked No. 1 in the country with 41.94 ground balls per game.
“What those men have done to earn us extra possessions is truly amazing,” Tiffany said. “They give everything they’ve got for every ground ball, and that’s what it takes to win championships.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to Hempstead, New York next weekend for the second round to face the winner of Sunday’s opening-round game between No. 6 Towson and Maryland.