PHILADELPHIA — The Virginia Cavaliers regained their status as one of the country’s elite men’s lacrosse teams this season because they regularly erased sizable deficits. But in Monday’s national championship game, the Cavaliers didn’t need a comeback. They jumped to a comfortable lead, led by four at halftime and scored five consecutive goals in the third quarter to pad a lead their defense made sure they didn’t surrender.
Virginia’s 13-9 win over Yale at Lincoln Financial Field gave the Cavaliers their sixth national championship but first since 2011. Virginia (17-3) held a high-paced, potent offense — Yale was the defending champion — scoreless during a 16-minute stretch of the first half. Sophomore Alex Rode tied a career high with 19 saves in third-seeded Virginia’s double-overtime win over Duke on Saturday, and he racked up 13 more Monday in the finale.
Sophomore Matt Moore scored four goals and had an assist. His five points gave him 89 for the year, breaking the program single-season record of 86 set by Doug Knight in 1996.
“I dreamed of this as a kid,” Moore said as music blasted from the Virginia locker room. “I still can’t believe it.”
Monday’s victory capped an emotional season for third-year coach Lars Tiffany, whose father, Bradford, died in January. During the funeral in February, one of Tiffany’s friends gave him a wooden lacrosse stick made by Alfie Jacques on the Onondaga Nation Reservation — originally a gift from Tiffany’s father. For many Virginia games this season, Tiffany brought the stick to the sideline. As he walked into his news conference Monday afternoon, he propped it against the wall before he took a seat.
“We incorporated it into the team,” he said. “We practiced with it. I run around with it. Every game, the award winner of who plays the toughest defense, maybe a big physical play, they get the stick for the week right next to their locker. It will continue to be a part of the Virginia lacrosse program.”
Tiffany inherited a program with a rich tradition, but after appearing in 13 Final Fours from 1994 to 2011, the Cavaliers went winless in ACC play for three straight years and endured losing seasons in 2013 and 2016. In his first season, Tiffany installed a run-and-gun style that has been at the center of the program’s turnaround.
In 2016, the Cavaliers let go of Hall of Fame coach Dom Starsia, who won four titles in Charlottesville. Starsia recruited many of the players on this year’s team, said Tiffany, who added that he “wouldn’t be a coach without him.” Before both became Division I coaches, Starsia coached Tiffany at Brown. Tiffany counts Starsia as one of his chief mentors: When they spoke by phone Sunday morning, Starsia advised him on how to handle the championship game, telling Tiffany not to practice too rigorously. That made a difference.
“We had better legs. We were fresher today,” Tiffany said. “Alex made some big saves early when we made some mistakes. That allowed our defense to grow more comfortable.”
The Cavaliers lost two of their first three games, including a 17-9 blowout to Loyola (Md.) in their opener, then won 16 of 17 en route to the title. They began the NCAA tournament with a 19-10 win over Robert Morris. Then came two comebacks — first over Maryland, then against Duke — that ended dramatically in overtime. On Monday, fifth-seeded Yale entered with the nation’s second-best scoring offense and the top faceoff winning percentage. The Bulldogs (15-4) scored a Final Four-record 21 goals Saturday against No. 1 Penn State.
But Virginia halted Yale’s attack. Out of halftime, the Bulldogs won back-to-back faceoffs and cut Virginia’s lead to two. But the Cavaliers responded with five straight goals, separating themselves for a comfortable lead.
Rode made a number of saves on shots from just outside the crease. As the top-ranked goalie in his high school class, he was recruited by longtime powers Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Syracuse. But he chose Virginia, where he has thrived.
And Monday, he helped bring a title back to Charlottesville.
“The whole defense,” Rode said, “just played amazing.”
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