The Virginia men’s lacrosse team lifted the National Championship trophy at the end of the last two NCAA Tournaments. On Sunday night, the Hoos learned what the quest for a third straight title might look like.
UVA earned a spot in the 2022 NCAA Tournament field, but is unseeded and will travel to Rhode Island to face No. 8 seed Brown. The 2019 and 2021 title seasons both began with games at Klockner Stadium so this presents a different challenge for this year’s team. The Hoos anticipated they might draw a road game, though.
“I wasn’t surprised to not get a home game,” UVA coach Lars Tiffany said. “We saw that our RPI was nine or 10, fluctuating between those two, so we anticipated potentially being on the road. That wasn’t a surprise. Our draw is an exciting matchup. Certainly, Brown is the favored team right now. They’re the home team. They had the stronger strength of schedule, stronger RPI. We know this is a fast-paced, exciting team with a fantastic goalie. The intensity that they play with is rarely seen. We know that up close and personal having playing them in 2019 and 2020. We’ve been to Providence, Rhode Island, and lost. So we know the high quality of play that comes from the Brown Bears.”
The Hoos put together a strong 11-3 regular season record. They scored 15 goals or more in 8 games and allowed 10 goals or less in 7 games. They won the ACC Championship for the 19th time in program history. They are the only ACC team in the field, however, and the conference’s results this season clearly impacted UVA’s positioning in the field. The Cavaliers’ only games against teams that also made the NCAA Tournament field came against Maryland and Richmond, both losses.
It’s quite the flip from last season when all five ACC teams made the tourney and North Carolina, UVA, and Duke all made the Final Four. The Ivy League, meanwhile, took five of the eight seeds in this year’s tournament bracket. In addition to Brown, Yale, and Princeton on the UVA side of the bracket, No. 3 seed Penn and No. 7 seed Cornell also earned home games.
Tiffany, of course, coached at Brown prior to accepting the same post at Virginia. He said it was surprising to be the only ACC team in the tournament this season.
“Obviously, it’s a fantastic year for the Ivy League. Give them a ton of credit,” Tiffany said. “They had a year off and they came and played with an attitude like they lost something. I certainly appreciate that. When something’s been taken from you, you really appreciate it when you get it back. For a lot of us, that inspired us in the 2021 season. That’s the way we played that spring and were able to pursue and win a championship. It feels like the entire Ivy League competed that way this year. Give them credit. They created a strong strength of schedule, they competed at a high level, they won a lot of games out of conference. Give them a lot of credit. I will admit it is startling to only see one of us in there and to not have Notre Dame and Duke also represented because we know of the quality of play that is part of ACC lacrosse. … We’re ecstatic to be in and even more so after seeing who’s not in.”
Still, Virginia saw some individual players record strong seasons. Cole Kastner and Connor Shellenberger, for example, were named Tewaaraton Award nominees. That award honors the top college lacrosse player in the United States. Kastner has 23 ground balls and 28 caused turnovers as one of the top defenders in the nation. He earned the ACC Defensive Player of the Week award twice this season. Shellenberger tallied 28 goals and 40 assists this season with 23 ground balls as well. He received ACC Offensive Player of the Week recognition once this season and was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
A pair of Cavaliers climbed to the top of the program record books as well. Against Duke, Petey LaSalla collected 11 ground balls and moved into the No. 1 spot on UVA’s career chart with 340 at that time. He passed Jason Hard’s previous mark of 336. LaSalla enters the NCAA Tournament with 373 ground balls in his career. Against Lafayette in the regular season finale, attackman Matt Moore passed Steele Stanwick to become the career points leader with 271 points. He has scored 140 goals and dished out 131 assists in his Cavalier career. Stanwick had 269 points in his career.
Virginia has not played since that game with the Leopards on April 28. The Wahoos navigated that long break ahead of last season’s NCAA Tournament as well. They hope that the time off allowed players to get healthy and recharge. Obviously, they’d love to produce similar postseason results as well. They did hold a team scrimmage Sunday to simulate a game and address a longer gap between opponents.
“We identified the objectives going into this 17-day layoff,” Tiffany said. “Those objectives were, one, get healthier, two, become more skilled and more accurate with our shooting, three, become even tighter as a team, continue to make this united, collective unit, … and, four, work on some of the schemes and mental aspects to nail that down. We’ve been able to focus on that. The biggest part of that is objective number one … to have Matt Moore getting closer to 100 percent, to getting Connor Shellenberger feeling closer to 100 percent, Petey LaSalla, Cole Kastner. I don’t want to make it seem like we’re the only team banged up. Every team is banged up this time of year. We just have the advantage of having some extra time there. You have to balance that with the rust.”
The Hoos will need to shake off any remaining rust quickly thanks to their spot in the bracket. Tiffany, who played at Brown and remains active tracking the team with fellow alumni, spoke highly of the Bears’ pace and intensity. They’ll challenge the Cavaliers right out of the gate.
The other seeds on the Cavaliers’ side of the bracket include No. 1 Maryland, No. 4 Yale, and No. 5 Princeton. If the seeds hold and Virginia can pull off the road upset, the path back to the Final Four at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, would include a rematch of the thrilling 2021 title game with the Terrapins in the 2022 quarterfinals. The Hoos won the championship meeting 17-16, but the Terps rolled earlier this year 23-12.
For now, however, that’s nothing but a projection and fodder for fan chatter. Virginia will put its focus on a tough Brown team that finished 10-5 this season. That game is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Even before seeing the bracket, that was the message to the team this past week.
“We’ve been focusing all week on making sure that when we speak to the media, speak to our parents, speak to everybody, it’s all about the first round game,” Tiffany said. “Yes, there’s everything and everyone is going to ask questions about that next game, but it’s like fellas, it’s all about that first round game.”