Virginia Men's Lacrosse Wins National Championship
May 26, 2003
By Chris McManes
BALTIMORE – Tillman Johnson will likely visit Baltimore many more times in his life. But he probably won’t have a better time than he did this weekend.
Johnson earned Most Outstanding Player honors in leading the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers to the 2003 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse championship with a 9-7 victory over top-ranked Johns Hopkins at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday. Johnson’s 13 saves against the Blue Jays followed his career-high-tying 18 stops in Saturday’s 14-4 win over Maryland.
“He might not have had as many saves as he had on Saturday, but there were different points in the game when I think Hopkins may have been a little more poised to come back on us, but Tillman seemed to come up with a save when we had to have it,” said Virginia Coach Dom Starsia, who led the Cavaliers to their first national championship since 1999. “We (were able to) recapture the momentum and kind of get the ball going back the other way.”
Johnson, who was named first-team All-American earlier in the day, became Virginia’s all-time leader in saves (204) Monday. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder from nearby Annapolis, Md., was playing in front of an NCAA-record 37,944 fans and a live ESPN-TV audience.
“I wanted to stay focused,” Johnson said. “You don’t get too many opportunities like this. The key was to have fun.”
A.J. Shannon led the Cavaliers (15-2) with four goals, including three in the first half. First-team All-American midfielder Chris Rotelli had a goal and four assists, and John Christmas added two goals and one assist.
With Virginia leading 8-5 early in the final period, Johnson came up with three huge saves, two while his team was a man down.
“We were never really worried on defense and we knew there were going to be some runs,” Johnson said. “That’s just part of lacrosse, playing in a championship setting. We knew there was going to be a run, and that was their little run. We just needed to stop that. We couldn’t let them score any more goals after that point.”
Kyle Barrie scored Hopkins’ final goal with 2:52 remaining to make it 8-6. After Cavaliers midfielder Nathan Kenney caused a turnover, Billy Glading found Christmas open on the left crease for a 9-6 Virginia lead. All-American midfielder Adam Donegar tallied for the Blue Jays 13 seconds later, but the Cavs won the ensuing faceoff and held the ball for most of the balance of the contest.
Donegar led Hopkins (14-2) with a pair of goals and Conor Ford had two assists. Blue Jay goalie Rob Scherr, who was named second-team All-American on Monday, had 12 saves while facing 32 shots.
“I thought both goalies were the two best players on the field,” said Hopkins Coach Dave Pietramala, who was trying to lead the Blue Jays to their first national title since he played on their 1987 title-winning team. Hopkins advanced to the championship game with a 19-8 pounding of Syracuse.
Virginia scored twice in the opening four minutes on their first two shots. Rotelli tallied unassisted from 10 yards and then Shannon took a feed from Christmas after Christmas drew a defensive slide and found Shannon open close to the cage. Rotelli (49 points) and Christmas (48), two of the Cavaliers’ leading scorers, were held scoreless Saturday.
Virginia made it 5-0 on Shannon’s third goal early in the second quarter before Hopkins scored the next three goals, including two in nine seconds. Defenseman Corey Harned’s second goal of the year following a faceoff closed the flurry and cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 5-3. Virginia took a 6-4 lead into halftime.
“You can’t dig yourself that kind of hole against this kind of team,” Pietramala said. “Would I rather be a second-half than a first-half (team)? No, I’d rather be a team that plays for 60 minutes, and unfortunately today we didn’t play for a full 60.”
Virginia, which set a school victories record Saturday, avenged its 8-7 loss at Hopkins on March 22. Johnson helped land the Cavs in the national semifinals with 16 saves in his squad’s 12-7 win over Georgetown on March 18.
“Tillman’s been on a roll now for a couple of weeks and we’ve been playing very well defensively,” Starsia said. “And certainly it starts with Tillman.”
NOTE – Sunday’s paid attendance of 37,944 broke Saturday’s record of 37,823. With Sunday’s paid attendance of 33,023, the three-day total of 108,790 established an NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships record. … M&T Bank Stadium will host the championships again next year. The 2005 site has not been awarded, but Baltimore officials hopes it remains at the Baltimore Ravens’ home field.