May 11, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For University of Virginia students in the College of Arts & Sciences, graduation will be held May 19.
Scott Hooper is among those scheduled to walk the Lawn that Saturday. He’s hoping to be 365 miles away, in Hempstead, New York, when the procession begins.
“One hundred percent,” Hooper said, laughing.
A history major from Wakefield, Rhode Island, Hooper is the top defenseman on the UVA men’s lacrosse team, for which he’s also a co-captain.
In the NCAA tournament’s first round, Virginia (12-5) meets No. 6 seed Loyola (12-3) at 7:15 p.m. Saturday in Baltimore. ESPNU is televising the game, whose winner will face No. 3 seed Yale or Massachusetts in the NCAA quarterfinals May 19 on Long Island.
For a program that has won five NCAA titles — in 1972, 1999, 2003, 2006 and 2011 — returning to the tournament for the first time since 2015 was an important step, especially for the Cavaliers’ departing seniors.
“Anywhere you go, you want to leave the place better than when you found it, as a student, as an athlete, as an individual, as a person,” Hooper said. “That’s kind of my biggest thing: leave the Virginia lacrosse program better than when I got here.”
In its most recent appearance in the NCAA tourney, UVA lost 19-7 to Johns Hopkins at Klöckner Stadium in a first-round game in May 2015. Of the Cavaliers who played that day, only three remain in the program: Hooper; Logan Greco, a redshirt junior who starts on close defense; and Cooper Fersen, who’s redshirting this season.
Growing up in Wakefield, about 35 miles of Providence, Hooper figured that if he played in an NCAA tournament, he’d do so on ice. Hockey was his favorite sport.
“The lacrosse piece kind of came together late for him,” former UVA coach Dom Starsia said.
After three years at Moses Brown School in Providence, Hooper enrolled at Hotchkiss, a boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut. “I wanted to go to college to play hockey, and I figured that would be my best route,” Hooper said.
He also played lacrosse at Hotchkiss, and early in his freshman year he traded the short stick of a midfielder for the long stick of a defenseman.
“We had some injured guys, and I asked my coach, `Let’s put a pole in my hands and see what happens,’ ” Hooper recalled. “And I did, and honestly I just fell in love with the position and the game and just tried to make it work from there.”
He played varsity hockey throughout his four years at Hotchkiss, but he drew more interest from colleges for his lacrosse skills. Hooper committed to UVA, whose head coach then was Starsia, after his sophomore year at Hotchkiss. His choice was anything but shocking.
“I had a lot of Virginia connections,” Hooper said, smiling.
Before coming to UVA in the 1990s, Starsia had coached at Brown, where his assistants for several years included Hooper’s father, Paul.
That wasn’t all. As a boy, Hooper attended camps run by Chris Rotelli, a Moses Brown School graduate, and he knew the former UVA great well. Moreover, Hooper’s club coach, for 3d New England, was another former UVA standout, David Jenkins.
“He’s a great guy, and he’s a huge reason why I’m here today,” Hooper said of Jenkins.
The head coach at Brown when Hooper was at Hotchkiss? Lars Tiffany, Starsia’s eventual successor at UVA. Tiffany, as chance would have it, had played at Brown when Paul Hooper was one of Starsia’s assistants there.
“He was a special soul for us,” Tiffany said of the elder Hooper, a former Division III All-American at Washington College. “Scott’s father always had this real intuitive, insightful feel for the game of lacrosse.”
Tiffany tried to interest Hooper in Brown, with little success.
“I remember talking to Lars a little bit,” Hooper said. “Obviously, Brown is an incredible school and a great opportunity, but being from Rhode Island I kind of wanted to get out and look somewhere else.”
Tiffany took over for Starsia at UVA after the 2016 season. “This has been a special treat to me, coming down to Charlottesville and being reconnected to Paul Hooper,” Tiffany said.
Hooper, who’s listed at 6-1, 200 pounds, is a four-year starter who’s led the Wahoos in caused turnovers each of the past two seasons. Game in and game out, he draws the opponent’s top offensive threat, whether it be Duke attackman Justin Guterding or Loyola attackman Pat Spencer.
“He is an elite defenseman who doesn’t get enough hype, probably because of our style of play,” Tiffany said. “Because we’re known for pushing that scoreboard up to 15, 18 goals, we give up a lot of goals in the process.
“We’re never going to be the statistical champions for [fewest] goals allowed. It’s just not in our DNA and how we compete. So therefore our defensemen may not get the accolades they deserve.”
In the season opener, against Loyola at Klöckner Stadium, Virginia trailed 7-3 at halftime before rallying for a 13-12 overtime victory. Hooper helped keep Spencer, who finished with three goals and two assists, from dominating the game. For the season, Spencer has 31 goals and 55 assists.
“He’s such a dynamic player,” Hooper said of the 6-3, 190-pound junior. “He’s not just going to go to the goal, he’s also going to probe, and he’s going to look for his teammates, and he makes everyone around him better.”
In the rematch Saturday night, the key for the Cavaliers will be “team defense,” Hooper said. “It’s going to come down to all seven of us on the defensive end playing together as a unit. It’s not going to come down to whoever’s playing him one-on-one, because that’s not how you beat Pat Spencer.”
Only two seniors play regularly for UVA: Hooper and Mike D’Amario, an attackman who has 31 goals and three assists. During a season in which D’Amario’s role has fluctuated, Hooper has been a constant.
“He’s had to not only play the role of leader and be there as a guide for the men in terms of how to live their lives and how to be a student here, but also on the field,” Tiffany said. “We need him to take some of the toughest matchups in the nation, and he’s got another one this weekend with Pat Spencer.
“There’s a lot riding on his shoulders, but as you get to know Scott Hooper, you recognize that he doesn’t seem to bear that burden as if it’s a heavy one.”
Starsia said: “As good a player as he’s been, he’s a better person.”
The UVA men’s lacrosse family added a prized recruit in November when 10-year-old Brian Rehm, who lives in Stanardsville, joined the program. Rehm, who uses a wheelchair to get around, connected with UVA through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that matches college athletic programs around the country with children who have serious and chronic illnesses.
This is a player-driven initiative for UVA men’s lacrosse, and Hooper is the point man. His former club coach, Jenkins, contacted him last summer about Team IMPACT.
“I looked into it, and [Jenkins] gave me somebody to reach out to, and I talked to them a little bit to kind of get a feeling for the program and what’s required to make it happen,” Hooper said.
Tiffany loved the idea and told Hooper to discuss it with his teammates, who enthusiastically agreed it was worth pursuing. Hooper led the way.
“Oftentimes we’ll say this student-athlete ran this or organized that, but really it was a coach or it was something that was already in existence,” Tiffany said. “Not this. Scott Hooper spearheaded our relationship with Team IMPACT and this fantastic relationship we now have with Brian and the entire Rehm family.”
Hooper said the team tries to get Brian to at least one practice each week during the season, as well as Virginia’s home games.
“It’s incredible,” Hooper said. “Anything to help the community, help guys like Brian and his family. He’s so outgoing, such an enthusiastic kid. He sends me pictures of him skiing. He can’t walk, but he’s skiing, and he’s out there just making the most of everything. We’re so fortunate to have him as part of our program.”
Hooper said it’s important to “help out the community, help those around you. I think playing lacrosse and being a varsity athlete at a university as prestigious as UVA kind of gives you that voice, gives you that opportunity.
“I remember one thing Dom Starsia always used to tell us was, `Wake up for breakfast.’ It gives you more time to plan out your day. It gives you more time to get things done.
“So I always follow that rule. I’m up an hour and a half before my first class. So that gives me time to get going, eat breakfast, get things done, and it opens opportunities. You hear about things, you can talk to people.”
Hooper, who traveled to Spain for the UVA in Valencia program the summer after his first year at the University, later completed a one-year course for students who aren’t in the McIntire School of Commerce: the McIntire Business Institute. Topics covered include accounting, finance, management and marketing.
Starting in July, he’ll put that knowledge to use. He’s accepted a job with Brown Brothers Harriman, a private bank, and will be working in their New York office.
He hopes to continue playing lacrosse after leaving UVA. In last month’s Major League Lacrosse draft, the Charlotte Hounds selected Hooper with the first pick of the fourth round. MLL games are on weekends, and teams’ players are often spread out around the country.
“Hopefully after Memorial Day I’ll be able to join up with them, and we’ll see how it goes,” Hooper said. “Obviously, at the end of the day I love the game of lacrosse, and if there’s any way I can keep playing the game, I’m going to do it, whether that’s in the MLL or other leagues elsewhere.”
He’ll cherish his four years at UVA.
“One hundred percent,” Hooper said. “I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. Charlottesville’s such a great town, too, and you try to soak up as much as you can of the total experience, not just academically or athletically. It’s tough to do everything, because Charlottesville is so awesome.”