By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – In Dennis Bonn’s two decades as head coach of the powerhouse boys lacrosse program at Cold Spring Harbor Junior/Senior High School on Long Island, N.Y., three eighth-graders have made his varsity team.
One of them was Ian Laviano. Never mind that in the spring of 2013 he weighed all of 130 pounds.
“We’d heard about these unbelievable abilities of his, and he absolutely had ’em,” Bonn said. “He has probably the best set of hands of any player I’ve ever coached. His hands are soft and lightning-quick, and he can catch and he can throw anything, and he had that in the eighth grade.”
He still has it. The 5-8 Laviano, who’s now up to about 170 pounds, is in his second year as a starting attackman at the University of Virginia. As a freshman last year, he contributed 37 goals and nine assists to help the Cavaliers advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.
He was around 6 years old when his father introduced him to the sport, Laviano said. “I immediately fell in love with it.”
Playing so early at Cold Spring Harbor, where grades 7-12 are in the same building, “gave me confidence,” Laviano said, “but it also prepared me for the moment when I first got [to UVA], when I was asked to take on a role early on.”
Laviano did not have the 2019 debut he wanted, converting only one of his 10 shots in Virginia’s 19-7 loss to No. 2 Loyola last Saturday in Baltimore. But with a new week comes a fresh opportunity. At 5 p.m. Friday, 11th-ranked UVA (0-1) hosts Lehigh (1-1) at Klöckner Stadium. (The game, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, was moved because of concerns over the weather forecast.)
Against Loyola, Laviano “hit some pipes, and the goalie was just tracking his shots pretty well,” Virginia offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan said. “I know there’s a couple that Ian wishes he had back. We’re going to keep dialing that up for him. He’s a guy that’s going to create those opportunities, so we’re going to keep looking for him.”
At Cold Spring Harbor, former UVA greats Jay Jalbert (1997-2000) and Adam Ghitelman (2008-11) preceded Laviano in the lacrosse program.
“I looked up to Adam,” Laviano said. “I loved going to Cold Spring Harbor games and watching him play.”
In Laviano’s five seasons on the varsity, he totaled 323 points and helped the Seahawks win three Class C state titles. Even as an eighth-grader, Bonn said, Laviano displayed a toughness that belied his stature.
“He’s rugged,” Bonn said. “He loves to ride. He loves ground balls.”
Bonn attended Virginia’s game at Stony Brook last season and remembers a sequence in which Laviano, who also played ice hockey in high school, was front and center.
“He picked up a ground ball right in front of the scorer’s table, and he got run over by two or three kids from Stony Brook,” Bonn said. “But he made the pass to get the ball advanced, and he got a penalty drawn. There was almost a bench-clearing brawl at that point, but that epitomizes him. He doesn’t care about getting run over. He’s going to pick up the ground ball and move it right away. That’s Ian.”
When Cold Spring Harbor would turn the ball over in its offensive end, Bonn said, Laviano “was like a hyena, riding it down, and it was just a beautiful thing to watch.”
Midway through his freshman year at Cold Spring Harbor, Laviano committed to UVA, intending to play for Hall of Fame head coach Dom Starsia and offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale in college. He had no reservations about committing so early.
“The way I looked at it was, you know where you’re going to high school when you’re four years out,” Laviano said. “What’s wrong with knowing where you’re going to college?
“I also wasn’t worried, because I fell in love with this place. I visited once or twice a year, so I kept developing a love for it.”
Starsia’s tenure at UVA ended after the 2016 season, and Lars Tiffany was hired to succeed him. Tiffany brought assistants Kip Turner, who’s a former UVA goalkeeper, and Kirwan with him from Brown. (Van Arsdale is now offensive coordinator at Loyola.)
Laviano never wavered on his commitment to Virginia.
“I had built a relationship with Coach Dom and Coach Van — they’re terrific people — but the first phone call with Lars went really well, and I really liked him when I first came down here [to meet him],” Laviano said.
Even when they were at Brown, Tiffany and his assistants were aware of Laviano’s prowess on attack. When they came to UVA, Kirwan said, they were happy to know Laviano would be joining their program.
“At first glance,” Kirwan said, “he’s not the most physically imposing person by any means, but to see the numbers he was putting up on Long Island and the accolades he was getting, we thought that there could definitely be something there that could translate to what we’re trying to do.”
In an era when athletes in many sports seem to be growing ever bigger and stronger, smaller players can still make an impact in lacrosse.
“It’s great for guys that don’t need the ball in their stick all the time to be productive,” Kirwan said. “It’s the equivalent to an off-ball 3-point shooter in basketball. It’s equivalent to a slot receiver in football. They don’t need a ton of wiggle room. They don’t need to make a ton of plays, having the ball in their stick.
“We’ve got plenty of guys that can do that, so we needed a guy like Ian to give us good balance on our offensive end, and he’s been great with it.
“I think that’s what helped him have such early success for us, the fact that he wasn’t a guy that needed the ball in his stick. He wasn’t a guy that needed to win match-ups to get open and get his opportunities.”
Laviano, 20, plans to major in psychology at UVA. He lives with teammate Matt Moore, who’s now starting on attack, alongside Laviano and junior Michael Kraus, after playing in the midfield as a freshman last season.
Moore might move back to middie at some point, Kirwan said, “but it’s one of those things where right now we feel like it gives teams some hard things to talk about as far as match-ups, and it helps our transition game, getting another dodger to support Kraus, which is something I don’t think we had last year.”
The Wahoos’ 2018 season ended in Baltimore with a loss to Loyola in the NCAA tournament’s first round. Not since 2012 have the ‘Hoos advanced to the NCAA second round, and they hope to break through this spring.
“The culture that we built last year was the foundation, and now we’re building off that foundation,” Laviano said. “It’s not something that takes a year. It’s a long process, so we’re still working on it. But the way our season ended last year was not the way we wanted it to. That feeling that we all had in that locker room after the game, as Coach Tiffany says, it was different than his first year here, and he sees a change and he sees a difference in this program.”