By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– About two miles from the Long Island town where brothers Steve and Andy Kraus starred for Garden City High School in the 1970s and ’80s, another member of the family enhanced his already stellar reputation last weekend.
In Hempstead, N.Y., junior attackman Michael Kraus –– Steve’s son and Andy’s nephew –– had a hand in three of the final four goals in Virginia’s stirring victory over former ACC foe Maryland at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
Steve Kraus, who lives in New Canaan, Conn., and Andy Kraus, who resides in Garden City, are two of the greatest faceoff specialists in UVA history. Steve, whose first season at Virginia was 1978, was a two-time All-American. Andy, whose freshman season was 1987, was a three-time All-American.
On Thursday night, they joined the current UVA team for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Garden City. On Saturday afternoon, they watched from the stands, along with many other current and former Garden City Youth Lacrosse players, as the Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2011.
There was no shortage of drama in this NCAA quarterfinal. With 9:30 left in the fourth quarter, UVA trailed 12-7. At the 3:30 mark, UVA trailed 12-8. But these Wahoos never believe they’re out of a game, and an epic comeback followed.
“Most teams when they’re down five, or whatever it was, they’re probably going to fold,” Michael Kraus said. “With us, you can feel that surge of more energy, and it’s kind of like we click into a fifth gear and just continue from there.”
After back-to-back goals by senior midfielder Ryan Conrad, Kraus assisted sophomore attackman Ian Laviano on a goal that cut the Terrapins’ lead to 12-10.
Another Conrad goal made it 12-11, and Kraus scored, off a pass from junior middie Dox Aitken, to even the score at 12-12 with 74 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Then came overtime, which ended when Kraus fed sophomore attackman Matt Moore for the game-winning goal 45 seconds into the extra period.
“When Matt’s got a stepdown from [around] 10 yards, he’s going to stick that every time,” Kraus said. “So as soon as I threw it, I knew he was going to score.”
Resilience has become the Cavaliers’ trademark in their third season under head coach Lars Tiffany. Four times Virginia, after trailing in the fourth quarter, has gone on to win in overtime.
“A lot of people have said that’s the most exciting and crazy game they’ve ever seen, and they’ve never seen a comeback like that on that stage,” Kraus said. “That’s not something that we want to rely on, having those comebacks, but we don’t get flustered when we’re in that situation. We have that confidence and belief that we’re going to be able to pull it off, because we’ve been in that situation so many times.”
UVA’s players, Steve Kraus said, are “not cocky, but they kind of laugh at the parents when the parents are sitting there in the fourth quarter and saying, ‘You’re down four or five. We’re tired of this. Why don’t you just play a whole game instead of playing the last 10 minutes?’ ”
Michael Kraus, a left-hander who’s equally comfortable shooting and passing with his right, finished with one goal and a game-high four assists against Maryland, the latest gem in his brilliant college career.
The ACC Freshman of the Year in 2017, Kraus was a second-team All-American last season. This year, he was named All-ACC for the third straight season and is likely to earn more All-America recognition when those teams are announced Thursday.
For the season, Kraus is the second on the team in points, with 67, despite having missed three games with a sprained ankle. One of those games was against ACC rival Duke, which defeated UVA 12-7 in Durham on April 13. That’s the Cavaliers’ only loss in their past 15 games.
“That was tough to watch,” Kraus said. “You obviously want to be playing in every game you can. It’s hard to watch your teammates go out there without you on the field, especially against Duke.”
The Hoos have lost 11 straight to the Blue Devils and 19 of their’ past 20 meetings. Virginia’s next chance to end that streak comes Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
In the first NCAA semifinal, third-seeded UVA (15-3) meets second-seeded Duke (13-4) at noon.
“We’re excited to get another shot at them,” Virginia offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan said, “and I’m excited for Mike to get that opportunity, because I know that hurt him not being able to get out there with his teammates on the field [last month].”
Kraus, who starred at New Canaan High, spent a postgraduate year at Taft School in Connecticut before enrolling at UVA in the summer of 2016. He missed only one game in his first two years in Charlottesville, but this season has tested him physically.
A few minutes into the Cavaliers’ first preseason scrimmage, against Bucknell, he sprained his left ankle. He was cleared to play in the Feb. 9 season-opener, but he clearly was less than 100 percent in UVA’s one-sided loss to Loyola in Baltimore.
“It took a little while,” Kraus said.
After his ankle healed, Kraus put together a string of sterling performances, totaling six points against Syracuse, seven against Brown, three against Notre Dame, five against Johns Hopkins, five against Richmond, five against Utah, and six against North Carolina – all UVA victories. Four days before Virginia’s regular-season showdown with Duke, however, he reinjured his left ankle in practice.
“I just landed on a ball,” Kraus said. “It was on one of the white lines, and I couldn’t see it. I jumped up and landed right on it. I fell down, and it hurt immediately.”
He sat out the next three games before returning for the ACC tournament, in which he helped Virginia capture the title for the first time since 2010. In the NCAA tourney, Kraus had three goals and three assists in a first-round win over Robert Morris and then made clutch play after clutch play against Maryland.
“I think he’s more of a complete attackman than people realize,” Steve Kraus said. “He can beat anybody, he’s got a wicked outside shot, he’s got a great Canadian skill set of finishing inside, and he’s got great vision.”
Moore shares those attributes. A midfielder in 2018, when he was named ACC Freshman of the Year, Moore changed positions this season, giving the Hoos an exceptionally versatile attack.
He credits Kraus with helping him master his new role in the offense.
“When he dodges, he’s just so smooth with his feet,” Moore said. “I think that’s what I picked up the most from him. At the attack position, you can’t go a hundred miles an hour. You’re going to have to slow down and get your feet set, and he’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Kraus has improved too, Kirwan said, “in letting the game come to him and just being that facilitator. It’s nice that he doesn’t feel he has to do it all with Matt out there now. They do a really good job, the two of them, of playing off of each other. It’s a lot of ego-less lacrosse out there with them.”
And then there’s Laviano (46 goals, 11 assists), an elite finisher who doesn’t need the ball in his stick much to be effective.
“You still only play with one lacrosse ball, so you gotta have some guys who move well off the ball, and Ian does that better than most,” Kirwan said. “The way he complements [Moore and Kraus], it’s really awesome, and the rapport that those three have is awesome. As close as they are and as in sync as they are on the field, you should see them off the field.
“Throw in Mikey Herring, who by nature is an attackman who just runs out of the box for us [as a middie], and those four are inseparable. So it’s clearly cool to see it translate on the field as well.”
Back in the fall, when Virginia’s players voted on team captains, their choices were Kraus, Conrad and senior Dave Smith. Their leadership has helped the coaching staff improve the team’s culture and return the Cavaliers to national prominence.
In 2017, when the Hoos posted an 8-7 record, they went winless in ACC play and missed the NCAAs for the second straight season. There was progress in 2018, when the Hoos finished 12-6 after losing to Loyola in the NCAA tourney’s first round. And now they’re back on their sport’s biggest stage.
“This season’s been unbelievable so far, just from a standpoint of the environment of our team,” said Kraus, who’s majoring in economics, with a minor in entrepreneurship. “I think we’ve grown and come together a lot more than most teams in the past, and you can see that from the way we play and the way we’re able come back [in games].
“I think it all stems from us being closer together than any team I’ve ever been a part of. In the beginning of the year guys realized that we do have a special opportunity, that we can make a stab at this, and I think they bought into it right away. It’s easy to say that in the fall when everyone’s excited, and it’s easy to say that in the beginning of the season, but I think we’ve continued to have that belief, and that’s what’s got us so far and enabled us to win some of those close games.
“It’s just really cool to see that growth. I can remember first year when we played UNC or some of those other teams, and we were down five, and then we were down 10. We were never able to claw back, and it seems like this year we have a whole different mentality.”