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May 27, 2003

So, you want to grow up to be a college lacrosse goalie? You want to spend four years being peppered by your teammates with 85 and 90 mile per hour shots with a ball that would dent a Silverado from 40 yards? You want to be the one guy that could determine the outcome of any one game, no matter how big? I suggest analysis….a long, long stay in an institution.

Maybe banging your head on a wall every week for three hours would be therapeutical. Unless you have the make up of Tillman Johnson.

As the Cavaliers were celebrating their third national lacrosse title Monday I couldn’t help but think I have just witnessed one of the great athletic performances at UVA…EVER! I mean Ralph Sampson’s 40 against Ohio State on Super Sunday doesn’t hold a candle to what the Cavaliers’ third year goalie just accomplished. Move over Tiki Barber, Barry Parkhill,and Matt Schaub. Johnson’s performance in the Wahoos’ championship run was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in the UVA orange and blue.

Tillman had 50 saves in the four game NCAA Tournament, and allowed just 19 goals. That’s a 72% save rate and a 4.75 goals per game average. All he did in the national semis and championship game was take the game away from Maryland and Johns Hopkins. He stopped everything but the Beltway traffic. Tillman went low, high, to his knees, he did splits…and his stick work was so fast he could have caught flies under a traffic light.

“In 29 years of coaching, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a goalie who has played like Tillman has this year,” head coach Dom Starsia told the post game throng of reporters.

Johnson finsihed with 204 saves, a UVA single season record and had a save percentage of 63%, the best by a Cavalier in 49 years.

“I was just trying to stay focused,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to play a solid game in the championship. I just try to enjoy it out there and have fun. That’s when I play best.”

Fun? Tillman probably likes being poked in the eye and having root canal. The Annapolis, Maryland third year has never been bothered by pressure. The bigger the game…the better the performance.

And he saved his best for last. When Virginia was clinging to a three goal lead and down a man, three of Johns Hopkins’ leading scorers all had point blank looks, and Johnson turned away all of them.

When it was all said and done, Virginia won it’s first national crown since the ’99 team, and third in the program’s history. The Cavaliers reeled off ten consecutive wins and beat everyone on their schedule.

Richard Morgan’s 39 points against North Carolina? Thomas Jones 221 yards against NC State? Aaron Brooks 385 passing yards against Virginia Tech? Blips on the radar screen now after what Tillman Johnson accomplished this past weekend.

And the best part? He will return for his senior year.

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