(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)
The Virginia Cavaliers walked off the field in Hartford, Conn., on Monday afternoon as champions for the second consecutive full season and seventh time in program history. And they did it against one of the best programs and coaches over the past decade in John Tillman and the Maryland Terrapins, who had hopes of becoming the first team since 2006 to be crowned undefeated champs.
And to think, it wasn’t that long ago when Virginia couldn’t grab a win in ACC play for anything. And now, just four years removed from their third straight winless season in ACC play, the Cavaliers are on top of the college lacrosse world.
Since his arrival in Charlottesville in the summer of 2016, it’s been a fairly quick ride to the top for Lars Tiffany and his Virginia Cavaliers. And with so much success in such a short amount of time, one has to look at Virginia lacrosse and, at least, ponder the fact that we could very well be witnessing the next college lacrosse dynasty being formed. And while nobody can predict the future, it is almost certain that Virginia will, at least, be in the title conversation for years to come.
For starters, looking ahead to the 2022 season the Cavaliers have a very strong core returning. Their top three scorers in Connor Shellenberger, Matt Moore – who is returning for a fifth season -, and Payton Cormier will be back and leading the offense while Cade Saustad, Scott Bower, and Cole Kaster return on defense, as well as SSDM Grayson Sallade and faceoff man Petey LaSalla. And that’s just scratching the surface of a roster that seemed to show more depth as the season went on, and returns much of that depth.
Additionally, with the extra year of eligibility, there is a possibility that some other impact seniors return for a fifth season in 2022. But outside of Moore, no other fifth-year returnee has been officially confirmed as of writing this.
Like their fellow ACC foes, Virginia’s recruiting has always been top-notch. The Cavaliers don’t just have one great class every three or four seasons, they consistently stack classes year after year. The 2021 class is no exception to that rule, as Virginia will bring in a class this fall that is ranked No. 7 by Inside Lacrosse and is highlighted by Deerfield (Mass.) attackman Griffin Schutz, The Woodlands (Texas) goalie Matthew Nunes, among a slew of other highly-rated prospects.
The recruiting success that has been sustained since the Starsia days won’t stop at the 2021 class either. Per Inside Lacrosse, Virginia currently holds the No. 3 class in the 2022 cycle with Manhasset (N.Y.) midfielder Joey Terenzi, Calvert Hall (Md.) attackman Truitt Sutherland, and Georgetown Prep (D.C.) faceoff man Mac Eldridge headlining the class as five-star rated players.
And when you consider that players such as Shellenberger, Cormier, Bower, and Kaster will still be on the roster when those guys arrive on campus, it’s not hard to be anything but optimistic about the future of Virginia lacrosse. At least at the moment, it’s clear that the culture changes that Tiffany and his staff made upon their arrival during the summer of 2016 have worked and have not only led to on-field success but clearly appeal to some of the best high school lacrosse players and have helped Virginia continue to recruit at the elite level that everyone is used to seeing.
Whether Virginia under Lars Tiffany will own the 2020s like Princeton owned the 1990s under Bill Tierney is something that only time will tell, but in just five seasons into the Tiffany-era, the Cavaliers have gone from the basement of the ACC to back-to-back champs and appear to have the ability to win a couple more.