PHILADELPHIA — Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany knows all too well the feeling of climbing the mountain to Championship Weekend only to come up short.
In 2016 — Tiffany’s last season at Brown before taking over at Virginia — he led the Bears to the national semifinals, where they lost to Maryland in overtime. This time, his Cavaliers ended an 11-game losing streak against Duke in double overtime to earn their 10th national title game appearance in program history and first since 2011.
“What I said three years ago was ‘Boy was that fun. This is the game of lacrosse at its best,’” Tiffany said after Virginia trailed Duke for much of Saturday’s Final Four game before ending it with six straight goals and winning, 13-12.
“This time, I was probably more animated at halftime than normal with this team about emotional things, and the team responded,” he continued. “I told the men ‘This is our time. We’ve earned this moment. We don’t deserve it, we’ve earned it and take the moment.’”
At 1 p.m. on Monday in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, No. 3 seed Virginia (16-3) will face No. 5 Yale (15-3), which beat Duke to win last season’s national championship.
“We're really happy to have two more days as a team together, and that's probably the best part of winning,” Tiffany said on Sunday morning. “Achieving objectives and goals are important, but we talked at one of our cultural Thursdays this year about what does it mean to be a great teammate and a better piece of the program? The simple answer is you are supporting the mission, supporting the objectives.”
Most of Virginia’s players don’t know much about Yale other than what they’ve seen on television. No player on the roster has ever faced the Bulldogs, but Tiffany knows a thing or two about them. He faced them annually when he was the head coach at Brown, and he compared them to his 2016 team that made the national semifinal.
“When you can win 70 to 75 percent of the faceoffs, you are now given the freedom and the license to play fast, to be super aggressive,” said Tiffany, who, at Brown, benefited from the services of faceoff men Will Gural and Ted Ottens and All-American goalie Jack Kelly. “When you have those two key positions filled with elite players, why not give up 40 or 50 shots? Why not have games with 40 faceoffs if you can win 70% of them?”
The Cavaliers got a pleasant surprise on the faceoff X this season from freshman Petey LaSalla, who unseated Justin Schwenk and won 212 of 351 faceoffs. He was especially clutch in the second half and overtime on Saturday, when he won the game’s final eight faceoffs.
“Petey has been just a stud since the fall,” Virginia midfielder Ryan Conrad said. “He’s one of those guys that we knew coming in this kind of environment with a ton of people in the stands and a lot of pressure, it wasn't really going to phase him too much just because of how hard-nosed and gritty of a player he is.”
Against Maryland, LaSalla went 17-for-25 on the X.
“We're watching him in front of our very own eyes emerge as an elite face-off man,” Tiffany said. “Now, obviously he's going against the elite faceoff man and maybe the elite faceoff man in the past decade. It would probably be a good argument maybe in the history of the game of college lacrosse. So this will certainly be a big obstacle for our entire team and Petey himself.”
Squatting across the X from LaSalla on Monday will be Yale’s TD Ierlan, who has won 375 of a possible 495 faceoffs this season, breaking his own NCAA record. He’s winning 75.8 percent of faceoffs, which leads the nation, and he’s a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award.
The junior has won more than 70 percent of faceoffs in each of the past three seasons, and last season, he set Division I records with a 79.1 win percentage, 359 wins and 254 ground balls. This spring, he also broke his ground balls record with 282, which also leads the country.
“At the end of the day, you've got to stick true to your fundamentals and my wings have been tearing it up,” Ierlan said. “I mean, at this level all the FOGO’s are really good and [LaSalla] is no exception. His reaction time is very good, he's a very well schooled Long Island guy. We're going to have our work cut out for us, and [Virginia’s] wings are very talented, so we're going to have to bring it.”
Junior attack Matt Gaudett leads Yale with 47 goals. Freshman Matt Brandau has 47 goals and 22 assists, and junior Jackson Morrill has 46 goals and 47 assists on the season.
Ian Laviano leads Virginia with 50 goals. Matt Moore has 42 goals and 42 assists, while Michael Kraus has 36 goals and 36 assists. Dox Aitken also has 42 goals on the season.