By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – For most of the game, rain fell on Klöckner Stadium, drenching players, coaches and fans Saturday night. Even so, defenseman Logan Greco was in no hurry to leave the field after Virginia’s 19-10 victory over Robert Morris in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament’s first round.
Greco hugged fellow fifth-senior Cory Harris as it sunk in that they’d never play at Klöckner again.
“We just sat for a second and took it all in,” Greco said later in the press box. “It’s raining, but it’s still a beautiful place, and there’s nothing like Klöckner. I’m happy to advance, but I’m sad to leave this place.”
With its emphatic victory over Robert Morris (9-8), which came to Charlottesville on an eight-game winning streak, third-seeded UVA (14-3) is headed to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.
“I’m very thankful for the men that I’m able to coach, because of the grit that they bring to the field and this intensity that they have,” head coach Lars Tiffany said.
The Cavaliers’ opponent will be determined late Sunday afternoon. At 2:30 p.m., No. 6 seed Towson (11-4) hosts Maryland (11-4), and the winner will face Virginia next Saturday on Long Island, N.Y., at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead.
The Wahoos are in their third season under Tiffany and assistants Sean Kirwan and Kip Turner. For a program that has won five NCAA titles, to break through after such a long stretch of postseason struggles was immensely satisfying. UVA lost in the NCAA tourney’s first round in 2014, ’15 and ’18.
“It’s amazing,” All-ACC midfielder Ryan Conrad said. “Our culture, our team, our coaching staff, everything, it’s just felt a little bit different this year, and I think we knew it from the beginning in the fall. We had a little bit of a rough start, but once we hit our stride, we knew that we had the guys, we had the coaches, we had the right system, and if we could just play the right way, we were going to have some serious success. So we’re just incredibly excited to have this opportunity.”
Conrad and his classmates left Klöckner in style. Against the Northeast Conference champion Colonials, Mikey Herring finished with six goals and Conrad added five. The previous career high for each of those seniors? Three goals.
“I guess it came at an opportune time,” said Herring, who’s best known for his precise passing.
Conrad said: “I’ve been trying to work on my shooting a little bit, but honestly it just comes down to guys getting me open and great feeds by Matt Moore and other guys.”
Robert Morris’ goalie, senior Alex Heger, made 16 saves and kept Virginia from pulling away in the first half. Eventually, though, the Hoos broke down the Colonials’ defense.
“I felt like the advantage with Mikey Herring is he’s a little bit more poised when he shoots,” Tiffany said. “He doesn’t just let it rip. He needs to get a little bit closer, and he’s a little bit more of a sharpshooter, but, boy, he can find those spots. And I was just really, really impressed with Ryan Conrad.
“You’ve got two fourth-years there, two guys in their final game here in Klöckner Stadium, and they’re stepping up and scoring all those goals and making all those plays off the ground. And they are smart plays. That’s the thing that Mikey Herring and Ryan Conrad give us. Not only that intensity and hustle, but you can see that experience come out in the way they compete.”
Three of Herring’s goals, and two of Conrad’s, came off passes from Moore, an All-ACC attackman who entered the game with a team-high 68 points. Moore, a sophomore, finished with seven assists and nine points Saturday night, both career highs.
“I have the easy job,” said Moore, who leads the Cavaliers with 39 assists this season. “I just have to read and make passes. They have to do the hard part of finishing. It’s a credit to their cutting and their ability to get open.”
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, Moore also played soccer and basketball, and he “has those attributes of seeing the field,” Conrad said, “and obviously he has a great stick. He can put the ball wherever he wants. But really it just comes down to that vision, and he can see anybody on the field at any time.”
Other standouts for Virginia included All-ACC attackman Michael Kraus, a junior who had three goals and three assists; senior Matt Dziama and sophomore John Fox, who roamed the defensive midfield with their customary abandon; and junior Justin Schwenk, who won 22 of 28 faceoffs.
The Cavaliers’ top faceoff specialist, freshman Petey LaSalla, was ill during the week. He took four draws Saturday night before giving way to Schwenk.
LaSalla “tried to power through it,” Tiffany said. “He just didn’t look right.”
Schwenk, who took most of Virginia’s faceoffs in 2018, helped starve the Colonials of possession.”He was fantastic for us,” Tiffany said.
A win next weekend would send the Cavaliers to the Final Four for the first time since 2011, when Tiffany’s predecessor, Dom Starsia, captured his fourth NCAA title.
Greco, LaSalla and sophomore attackman Ian Laviano are among the UVA players who grew up on Long Island.
“I remember going to [NCAA tournament] games there when I was a kid and just seeing the atmosphere,” Greco said. “It’s always been a dream to get there. I know my parents are super excited to have everyone there. I remember being a little kid watching those games, and now I’m going to be playing in those games. It’s just really a surreal moment.”
The Hoos opened the season with a one-sided loss to Loyola in Baltimore, and nine days later they fell at home to High Point. Since that Feb. 18 defeat, however, Virginia has lost only once, to Duke on April 13.
“I think communication on defense has gotten significantly better throughout the year,” Greco said. “In the Loyola game, our defense was pretty terrible communication-wise. So we’ve just been working on that communication, getting more voices out there. Sometimes there were just one or two people talking. Now it’s six people, and Rode.”
That would be goalie Alex Rode, a sophomore from the Baltimore area who started 12 games in 2018.
“The maturity we’ve seen from Rode over this year has been astounding,” Greco said. “He’s gone from someone that’s too scared to talk to someone who’s chirping out there in practice, who’s talking, who’s commanding the defense. We’ll make a call on defense and he’s like, ‘No, I don’t want that.’ He’s commanding the defense, and his maturity has really helped the overall defense.”
Tiffany said: “Alex Rode said nothing his first 15 months on Grounds … It’s liberating for him to come out of his shell, and it’s helped him just be more comfortable being in the goal. There’s a lot of pressure in there. Why bottle it all in? Express yourself and let it out. And so I’m excited to see every day as he gets more and more comfortable expressing himself, and it’s really made a difference.”