Widely regarded as one of the best teachers, motivators and tacticians in the game, Dom Starsia spent 24 seasons at the helm of the Virginia men’s lacrosse program (1993-2016). He has been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame (2008) and the IMLCA Hall of Fame (2020).
Under Starsia’s guidance, his Cavalier squads have won four NCAA titles and reached the final four 13 times. He has won more games than any coach in Atlantic Coast Conference and Virginia history, sporting a 274-103 (.727) record since coming to Charlottesville in 1993. In 24 seasons with Virginia, Starsia has led the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament 21 times and has won 10 or more games in a season 19 times since his arrival in Charlottesville. The 63 seasons prior to Starsia’s tenure began at UVA the Cavaliers managed only 10 years with double-digit wins.
Starsia’s overall record, including 10 seasons at Brown, is 375-149 (.716) in 34 years. His 375 wins are the most all-time by a coach at a Division I school, passing legendary coach Jack Emmer (326). The record-breaking triumph was an impressive 13-9 victory over No. 2 seed Cornell in the 2011 NCAA quarterfinal round. The victory was part of UVA’s improbable run to the program’s fifth NCAA title.
The Cavaliers finished the 2015 season with a 10-5 record and hosted a first round NCAA Tournament game against Johns Hopkins, an eventual semifinal team. It was Starsia’s 21st NCAA Appearance with the Cavaliers and 26th overall in his career as a head coach. Goalie Matt Barrett had a breakout season, earning All-America honors and lead the ACC with 12.20 saves per game, which ranked eighth nationally.
Virginia returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 after missing it in 2013. Mark Cockerton led UVA with 47 goals and 16 assists, finishing his career No. 8 all-time in program history with 125 goals. The Cavaliers led the nation in ground balls for the second year in a row with 37.75 per game and have never finished lower than No. 3 since the NCAA started tracking the stat in 2009.
UVA failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2013 for only the second time under Starsia’s watch, finishing 7-8 and losing to North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Starsia’s young team lost seven of its eight games by three goals or less, including three losses coming in the final minute of regulation or overtime. The Cavaliers led the nation in ground balls with 39.93 per game. As a junior, Cockerton finished No. 2 in the nation with 3.5 goals per game.
The 2012 season saw the graduation of Steele Stanwick. Under Starsia, Stanwick was a two-time first-team All-American, a Tewaaraton Trophy winner and set the program record for most career points with 269. Stanwick’s 269 career points upon graduation placed the attackman No. 18 all-time in NCAA history.
Starsia’s program in 2011 became the first five-loss team and lowest national seed (No. 7) to win an NCAA title. UVA’s efforts helped garner Starsia an ESPY nomination for Best Coach and a waltz down the red carpet at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre in July 2011. Starsia was going up in his category against the likes of UConn’s Jim Calhoun, Dallas Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle, Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Green Bay Packers’ Mike McCarthy. Carlisle, ironically a UVA graduate, took home the award.
The USILA bestowed its top honor on Starsia in 2011, naming him the 2011 F. Morris Touchstone Division I Head Coach of the Year. Starsia became the first Virginia head coach to win the award, an honor which was first presented in 1958. The accolade is Starsia’s third career F. Morris Touchstone Award, previously winning at Brown in 1985 and 1991. Starsia is now in a four-way tie for the most times being awarded in the history of the USILA honor. Richard M. Moran (Cornell), Robert Scott (Johns Hopkins) and Tony Seaman (Pennsylvania/Towson) share the honor with Starsia with three career F. Morris Touchstone Awards apiece. Only Starsia is an active head coach.
No one would have figured an NCAA title in 2011 was improbable for Virginia when the Cavaliers were ranked No. 1 in the USILA coaches preseason poll and No. 2 in the Nike/Inside Lacrosse preseason media poll. They still may not have figured it was out of the realm of possibility through the first eight games of the season when UVA was ranked No. 2 with a 7-1 record. Then Virginia hit a skid, losing 4-of-5 games and losing defensive stalwart Matt Lovejoy to season ending shoulder surgery to compound other personnel changes.
After reinventing its offensive and defensive approach on the fly, UVA entered the regular season finale against No. 13 Penn with an 8-5 record and the threat of losing an NCAA first round hosting bid. Heading on the road for the first time in program history for a first round NCAA game all of a sudden became a strong possibility. UVA closed out the regular season with an impressive 11-2 victory over the Quakers, starting an impressive five game stretch where the Cavaliers played their best lacrosse of the season. Matt White’s overtime goal against Bucknell in the NCAA first round capped a UVA comeback that saw the Cavaliers trail by as many as four goals in the second half and by two with two minutes left in regulation. 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy winner Steele Stanwick had 21 points in the NCAA Tournament to lead the Cavaliers, while Colin Briggs’ five goals in the title game against Maryland earned the midfielder Most Outstanding Player honors of the NCAA Championship.
“The fact that we are here right now is a credit to the team and my family and the people at Virginia,” said Starsia after winning his fourth title with the Cavaliers. “We had to reconfigure ourselves midway through the season – they had to decide that it was important enough to pick themselves up and get going again. The game today epitomized the kind of season that we’ve had – that we have started out well – put some goals in the second quarter when we got ahead a little bit and gave us some confidence going into the locker room. I am very proud of these guys and what they have done.”
The 2011 title is just another bolded bullet point on an already impressive resume. Starsia is one of only three coaches in the history of the sport to win 100-plus games at two different schools. In addition to his 240 UVA wins, he won 101 games at Brown from 1983-92. Jack Emmer won 100-plus games at both Washington & Lee and Army, while Dave Urick topped the century mark at Hobart and Georgetown.
In fitting recognition of his coaching success, Starsia was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in November 2008, one of only four active Division I coaches so honored.
“The wins and losses are fickle at best,” Starsia said during his induction speech. “It’s the relationships that stand the test of time. Coaching has never been a career choice. It’s my life. During my interview [with UVA], I was asked to describe myself. I didn’t know how to respond. I said, `honest, and I’ll work hard.’ And it’s really never been more than that.”
During his coaching tenure, Virginia has featured 125 All-Americans (30 first-team, 31 second-team, 25 third-team and 39 honorable mention choices), 71 All-ACC selections, eight ACC Rookies of the Year and seven ACC Players of the Year. In addition, UVA has produced five NCAA Championship MVPs (Michael Watson in 1996, Conor Gill in 1999, Tillman Johnson in 2003, Matt Ward in 2006 and Colin Briggs in 2011) and 37 All-NCAA Tournament selections, all since 1994.
Starsia’s program never wavers from the emphasis on sportsmanship. Following the national championship season of 2003, the program received the Jim Adams Award, the national lacrosse award for sportsmanship. The next year the team slipped to a 5-8 record but still received the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Sportsmanship Award in the first year it was presented. The program then won the league’s sportsmanship award for three years afterward.
“Sportsmanship remains a priority for us, and the fact that we have been able to win these awards in all different kinds of seasons, I think speaks a lot about the ideals that are important in this program,” said Starsia.
Excellence in Starsia’s program isn’t only defined by what happens on the field. His teams excel in the classroom as well. Fifteen Cavaliers have been named Scholar All-Americans under his tutelage, including at least one in five of the last six seasons. Ben Rubeor earned All-America recognition for his athletic excellence as well as his academic prowess as a junior (2007) and senior (2008). In 2008 five of the seven Cavaliers who were named All-Americans posted GPAs above 3.0. Danny Glading (2009) and Ken Clausen (2010) concluded their All-American seasons on the field as Scholar All-Americans as well.
The fall of 2009 brought national attention to his program’s humanitarian efforts, highlighted by senior Max Pomper being honored with the IMLCA Boston Market Humanitarian Award for his efforts in raising nearly $10,000 for UVA’s HELP crisis hotline through a flag football tournament initiated in remembering fallen teammate Will Barrow. Clausen gained national attention with his “Lacrosse Mustache Madness” initiative, a nation-wide effort that raised nearly $33,000 in November 2009 for prostate cancer research and awareness. Both efforts more than tripled their fundraising efforts by year four in the fall of 2012. Clausen’s Mustache Madness moved its fundraising efforts to help the HEADstrong Foundation and fighting various blood cancers.
Under Starsia’s direction, the Cavaliers have enjoyed a remarkable era of success that is rivaled by few programs. In addition to winning four NCAA championships, UVA has reached the title game two other times, the semifinals seven more times and the quarterfinals three times under Starsia. Overall, Virginia has advanced to the Final Four 13 times in Starsia’s 20 seasons at the helm.
Virginia’s 2006 squad will go down as one of the greatest in the sport’s history. Starsia led the men in orange and blue to an unprecedented 17-0 record en route to the program’s third national championship in eight years. The team was dominant throughout the season, winning by an average of more than eight goals per game. The offense led the country in scoring (15.28), while the defense ranked 10th, allowing fewer than eight goals per game. Eight Cavaliers were named All-America, the most in program history, and senior Matt Ward received the Tewaaraton Trophy as the best player in the nation.
The Cavaliers won their second national championship under Starsia in 2003 when they capped an exciting four-game title run with a 9-7 victory over top-ranked Johns Hopkins in the NCAA finals. The Cavaliers closed the season with a 10-game winning streak to win both the ACC and NCAA championships and finished with a 15-2 overall record.
In 1999, Starsia guided the program to its first national championship in 27 years with a thrilling 12-10 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA title game. Virginia concluded that historic campaign with a 13-3 record. The Cavaliers also won their second ACC Tournament crown in three years with an 8-7 come-from-behind victory over top-seeded Duke.
The list of exceptional athletes to play for him reads like a “Who’s Who” of the lacrosse world. Steele Stanwick (2011), Matt Ward (2006) and Chris Rotelli (2003) capped their national championship seasons by winning the Tewaaraton Trophy as the top player in the nation, giving UVA the most first-time winners of the award.
Ward was also named the USILA Player of the Year in 2006, one of three Cavaliers to win national honors that season; Michael Culver was named the Defenseman of the Year, while Kyle Dixon was selected the Midfielder of the Year.
Tillman Johnson became the only player in the program’s history to win two USILA national awards in one season. He turned in two electric performances in the 2003 Final Four and was named the Player of the Year and Goalie of the Year.
Two icons of the sport-Jay Jalbert and Conor Gill-won a national championship at UVA in 1999, before going on to continued success at the professional level. Jalbert was the MVP of Major League Lacrosse in 2003, while Gill was named the league’s MVP in 2004. Matt Poskay won a title with UVA in 2006 and was named the MLL’s MVP in 2010.
Virginia claimed two national award winners in the same season for the first time ever in 1996 when Doug Knight was named Player of the Year and Michael Watson was chosen Attackman of the Year. Two more Cavaliers received USILA national awards in 1999 as Ryan Curtis was selected Defenseman of the Year and Jalbert was named Midfielder of the Year.
A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., Starsia came to UVA from his alma mater, Brown University, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding coach and athlete.
Starsia became Brown’s head lacrosse coach in 1982 and compiled a 10-year record of 101-46, while establishing himself as one of the top young coaches in the game. His teams boasted the best Ivy League record and the best overall record for any Ivy League school over that 10-year span. While at Brown-where he remains second on the school’s list for most wins-he developed five first-team All-Americans, 20 Ivy League first-team players, four Ivy League Players of the Year, and three Ivy League Rookies of the Year.
>He took the Bears to the NCAA playoffs in five of his last six years, including the last three. The Bears won two Ivy League titles (1985 and 1991) and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals three consecutive seasons (1990-92). Starsia led them to their finest season in 1991 with their first-ever undefeated regular season (13-0). They also won the Ivy League title and the New England Championship, and finished with a No. 2 national ranking. Starsia received his first two Morris Touchstone Award as the Division I Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1991 while at Brown.
An outstanding high school football player, Starsia had never seen a lacrosse game before entering Brown as a student in 1970. Showing natural talent for the game, however, he became one of the best defensemen in school history. He was a third-team All-American in 1973 and 1974, earning first-team All-Ivy and All-New England both years. He captained the Bears in 1974 and played in one NCAA playoff game as well as the annual North-South game.
Starsia also captained the freshman football team and played wide receiver on the varsity for two seasons. He was inducted into the Brown University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981 and the New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame (Newton, Mass.) in 1996. He received the Frank Lanning Award for lifetime achievement of overall contribution to the Rhode Island sports community from the Rhode Island Organization of Sportswriters and Sportscasters in 1992. In 2000, Starsia was chosen one of Brown’s “Top 100 Athletes of the Twentieth Century” and to the Brown men’s lacrosse “Team of the Millennium.”
Starsia earned his bachelor’s degree in American Civilization in 1974. Upon graduation, he joined the Brown athletic staff as a full-time assistant to the legendary men’s soccer and lacrosse coach Cliff Stevenson. Starsia coached the women’s soccer team from 1974 to 1976 and succeeded Stevenson as head lacrosse coach in 1982.
He was a standout club player following his playing days at Brown and was named Club Defenseman of the Year in 1979 and club All-American in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Starsia is also active in the lacrosse community on a national level. He currently serves on the NCAA Championship advisory committee, the USILA All-American selection committee, the Tewaaraton Trophy selection committee, as well as the ACC Sportsmanship Committee and received the Howdy Myers Man of the Year Award in 2006.
He has been the president of the Men’s Council of U.S. Lacrosse and a member of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Executive Committee. He has coached in the North-South game twice; a North win in 1990 and a South win in 2005.
Starsia was inducted into the Central Virginia chapter of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2003 and is a charter member of Brown University’s Advisory Council on Athletics.