PHILADELPHIA — If all Virginia had done was reach the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship game, the case could have been made that alone brought the Cavaliers back to relevance.
Relevance? With their 13-9 victory over Yale in Monday’s title game at Lincoln Financial Field, it looked like the old days, when Virginia was a men’s lacrosse power.
The Cavaliers, who were invited to the NCAA Tournament 17 times in an 18-year span between 1993-2011, subsequently fell on hard times and did not receive bids in three of the last seven seasons.
In 2016, after a second losing season in three years, former coach Dom Starsia, who had led UVa to four NCAA championships, was fired.
In an odd twist, Starsia was replaced by Lars Tiffany, who had played for and later coached under Starsia at Brown.
A mentor being fired and being replaced by his protege? How often does that happen?
For whatever complaints that UVa may have had with Starsia, the man could recruit and the firepower that the Cavaliers displayed Monday came almost exclusively from Starsia recruits.
What’s more, Tiffany is no slouch at the recruiting game. Starting with the entering class of 2014, none of Virginia’s last seven classes has been ranked lower than seventh by Inside Lacrosse.
The 2018 recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today, and many of those players had spotty playing time, although faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla and defenseman Cade Saustad had major roles Monday.
Of course, they will be back next year, along with the likes of sophomore Matt Moore, who had a game-high four goals; junior Michael Kraus, who had three. Goalie Alex Rode, who had 13 saves, is a sophomore.
Think the Cavaliers might be ranked No. 1 next year?
One of the benefits of lacrosse for the college sports fan is that it’s not like college basketball, where, in the case of a national champion like Virginia, three underclassmen turned pro after the season, with a fourth still giving it a thought.
Compare that to lacrosse midfielder Ryan Conrad, who committed to UVa before his sophomore year in high school in the summer of 2012. Conrad was rated the No. 1 lacrosse recruit in the country prior to his 2015 arrival.
Conrad suffered a season-ending knee injury five games into the 2018 season and applied for a medical waiver that would have made him eligible to return for a fifth year in 2020. If he could have returned in 2020, he would have.
The NCAA’s decision was that Conrad had missed the limit by 11 minutes, so he won’t be returning, but Virginia will be adding three of the nation’s top four prospects. That includes No. 1-rated Connor Shellenberger from St. Anne’s-Belfield in Charlottesville.
Starting with the sounds of the Allman Brothers and “Ramblin’ Man” blaring in the parking lot before the game, the setting had an old-time feel to it and for a previously proud Virginia program, there were no complaints.
The Cavaliers are back on track.