By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– In the spring of his senior year of high school, Kyle Kology drove with his mother from New Jersey to the University of Virginia, where he’d been offered admission, and met with head men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany.
Kology, a 6-foot-4 defenseman from Chatham High School, had also been accepted at the University of California, which competes at the club level in men’s lacrosse. Tiffany offered Kology an opportunity to try out at UVA, but that was the extent of his sales pitch.
“I literally told him and his mother, ‘I really don’t care if you come here. If Berkeley ends up being the right place for you, great,’ ” Tiffany recalled this week.
Kology chose UVA, and for that Tiffany is immensely grateful. As a freshman walk-on in 2018, Kology immediately earned a starting job on close defense. In 2019, he helped the Cavaliers win the program’s sixth NCAA title.
“Better to be lucky than good,” Tiffany said, laughing.
In a game that will air on ACC Network, UVA opens its fourth season under Tiffany at 2 p.m. Saturday against Loyola (Md.) at Klöckner Stadium. No. 16, as usual, will be in the starting lineup for the Wahoos.
Kology originally planned to attend Amherst College, whose lacrosse program is one of the best in the NCAA’s Division III, but after a visit to its campus he decided the fit wasn’t ideal for him. He shifted his focus to Cal and its Haas School of Business, but also applied to UVA and other colleges on the East Coast.
Before coming to UVA in June 2016, Tiffany and his assistant coaches, Kip Turner and Sean Kirwan, had worked together at Brown, where they first became aware of a tall, gangly defenseman from Chatham.
“I actually tried to get him to Brown,” Turner recalled this week, “and Lars was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ He didn’t really want him.”
Once UVA offered him admission, Kology emailed Turner.
“He kind of gave me all the confidence I needed,” Kology recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t think you should be striving to just make the team here. I think there’s a starting spot for you here.’ He always really had an amazing conviction in my ability, more so than I think I had at that point. I guess he wound up being right.”
Turner said: “He’s a smart defenseman, and usually your smartest guys play for you.”
Tiffany, though, remained skeptical, because of Kology’s athletic limitations.
“Eventually I got in contact with Coach Tiffany,” Kology said. “He didn’t provide me much comfort. He essentially just said, ‘I’ll give you a look. I’ll give you three days to prove yourself.’ “
Kology describes himself as “usually a pretty risk-averse person,” but the idea of playing Division I lacrosse appealed to him, as did Virginia’s proximity to Jersey. And so he enrolled at UVA and, once the fall semester began in 2017, showed up for his audition.
“It took about 30 minutes of the first practice for us to recognize, ‘Holy cow! A good one here just landed on our front porch,’ ” Tiffany said.
Kology’s memories of his tryout aren’t as positive. He weighed about 200 pounds that fall, which on a 6-foot-4 frame “is just not what a college defenseman should be,” Kology said. “I remember my first practice, I was getting tossed around by Michael Kraus and Mike D’Amario, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’
“Kraus and D’Amario were putting me through the wringer. I just wasn’t big enough to cover them, and they were just outmuscling me. I had done conditioning over the summer, but I just felt like it was a different kind of conditioning, and as my body’s hurting, I’m breathing heavy and thinking, ‘Can I do this for four years, even if I make the team?’ “
Thankfully for the Cavaliers, Kology persevered.
“Boy, was I wrong,” Tiffany said. “I’m so glad he decided that UVA was the best place for him to pursue his education.”
Kology, whose mother is a cousin of former UVA basketball star John Crotty, is a student in the prestigious McIntire School of Commerce. His intelligence is evident on the field, too.
“In sports, the phrase ‘coach of the field’ is overstated,” Tiffany said, “and I don’t know if that accurately describes him, because he’s better than a coach on the field. He sees things on the field that I wouldn’t have seen with the advantage of film. He has a very intuitive feel for the game.
“Kyle has literally, I think for the better, forced me to change the way I assess high school defensemen, because obviously I missed on him. There’s obviously a premium on athleticism, but it doesn’t tell the whole story at certain positions, and the intellectual capacity that’s so critical on defense is difficult to assess in a high school defenseman.
“What I’ve come to realize is that I’ve got to get to know these defensemen more. So in our recruitment of defensemen, when they visit us, we spend more time talking the game than I did in the past. When I have high school defensemen on Grounds, I’ll put them on the greaseboard to assess their knowledge of team defense and how they think the game.”
Kology, whose older sister swam at Harvard, played at about 200 pounds in 2018 and about 205 in 2019. “I put on 15 pounds [after the 2018 season], but I lost it really quick,” he said.
He’s up to 225 this year, though, and he’s been able to keep the extra weight and muscle on. It’s made a difference.
“He’s not an elite athlete,” Turner said. “He played because he’s a really smart defenseman, and now he’s done so much with his body and improved so much physically that he’s becoming an elite cover defenseman, which is not what I thought he was going to be at all.
“He was more just like that smart, savvy, good-stick type of defenseman, and now all of a sudden he’s sort of transformed into this jack-of-all-trades type of defenseman, which is just really remarkable. He’s an awesome example of one of those guys who didn’t get a ton of recruiting love but just kept working at it and working at it, and he figured it out.
“It doesn’t go that way for everybody, but he had talent, and he had IQ, and he just kind of ran with those two things, and now he’s put on the weight and worked on his footwork to make himself this sort of elite Division I defenseman. It’s super impressive what he’s done.”
Tiffany agreed. “I don’t see the transformation of athletes after their second year. You usually see it early. It’s almost unprecedented for my experience.”
The lacrosse program awarded Kology some scholarship aid after his first year, he said, and then doubled it after his second year.
“It’s nice affirmation,” he said.
He’s also found it rewarding to be part of the Cavaliers’ revival. As a freshman, Kology helped the Hoos reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. As a sophomore, he helped them capture their first NCAA crown in eight years.
“Knowing the ins and outs of what that team went through to get to that spot, and seeing all our hard work come to fruition at the end of it, was awesome,” Kology said.
The setting for the NCAA tournament’s final weekend was Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. In the semifinals, UVA edged its nemesis, Duke, in double overtime. In the title game, third-seeded Virginia defeated fifth-seeded Yale 13-9.
During the celebration that followed the championship game, Kology sought out Turner, the starting goalie on the UVA team that went 17-0 and won the NCAA title in 2006.
“After we won,” Kology recalled, “I went up to him and hugged him and said, ‘Thanks for taking a chance on me.’ “