By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — There’s Chase Yager the well-spoken, thoughtful scholar, and there’s Chase Yager the fiercely competitive athlete. The University of Virginia graduate student combines his disparate attributes to form an accomplished lacrosse player who’s been everything head coach Lars Tiffany hoped Yager would be, and more.

“He is an intellectual warrior,” Tiffany said. “His wisdom and insight into our defense, into our team mindset, into the ethos of a warrior, is exceptional, and it’s wonderful to witness one person who has this ability to be viking-like on the field but sort of Socrates-like off the field.”

Where Yager shines brightest, Tiffany said, is during Cultural Thursdays, the weekly meetings at which the Cavaliers discuss books and topics not necessarily related to lacrosse.

“When he makes a point, it’s mic-dropping, as in Coach Tiffany should not say anything else afterward, because I will dumb it down,” Tiffany said, laughing.

Yager, who graduated from Harvard last spring, is in his first year at UVA, where he’s wrapping up work on a master’s degree from the McIntire School of Commerce. On the field, he’s a short-stick defensive midfielder who recently earned second-team All-America honors from Inside Lacrosse.

A career in the U.S. Navy awaits Yager, but first he’s hoping to play three more games as a Cavalier. In an NCAA quarterfinal to air on ESPNU, No. 6 seed Virginia will meet No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Towson, Md. The winner will advance to the final four at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

“Playing on championship weekend is what every lacrosse player dreams about,” Yager said.

His parents were Navy pilots, and the family “hopped around a good deal,” said Yager, who was born in California. The Yagers settled in Virginia Beach when he was an eighth-grader, and he spent his high school years at Norfolk Academy, where he played lacrosse for former UVA stars Tom Duquette and Ryan Tucker.

Yager was a three-year starter at Norfolk Academy but attracted minimal interest from Division I programs.

“I would have to go through my notes,” Tiffany said, “but I don’t remember thinking he was somebody we should go after, and, boy, he proved us wrong, and probably some other people too.”

Yager said: “I was very much a D-III recruit out of high school.”

Duquette, then Norfolk Academy’s head coach, encouraged Yager, an outstanding student, to consider the academically prestigious schools that compete in the Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference. Yager chose Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he enrolled in 2018.

As a freshman in 2019, Yager helped Amherst to a runner-up finish in the Division III NCAA tournament, but the COVID-19 pandemic cut short his sophomore season.

Yager went home to Virginia and didn’t return to Amherst. He took a gap year in 2020-21 during which he “had some cool life experiences,” Yager said, including a stint as a lower-school teacher at Norfolk Academy. He also began applying to schools that had Division I lacrosse programs.

“Just to try and stay in the similar academic spirit of the NESCAC, I was looking at mostly Ivy Leagues,” Yager said. “And then after I applied to these schools I would reach out to the coaches and just be like, ‘Hey, I’ve put in an application. If you’re interested, let me know. I would love any support.’ ”

The Ivy coaches, including Harvard’s Gerry Byrne, responded that they had little influence in the admissions process. Yager was initially waitlisted at Harvard but “ended up getting in off the wait list, which is a rarity, I was later told,” he said. “It was really just a lucky turn of events.”

It worked out well for both parties. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Yager became a mainstay in the defensive midfield for Harvard, which advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2022, and he received a bachelor’s degree in government. The Ivy League doesn’t allow graduate students to compete in varsity athletics, however, and so Yager had to find another school at which to use his final year of eligibility.

“It was definitely an interesting search process,” Yager said. “I was looking for strong lacrosse schools, but then also strong academic schools. I wanted a program that was going to add something to my academic résumé. So that limited it pretty quickly.”

Chase Yager (23)

“It was definitely an interesting search process,” Yager said. “I was looking for strong lacrosse schools, but then also strong academic schools. I wanted a program that was going to add something to my academic résumé. So that limited it pretty quickly.”

The M.S. in Commerce program offered by McIntire interested Yager, who’d minored in computer science at Harvard, so “it was easy to get UVA on my short list,” he said. “My brother went to UVA as an undergrad, and obviously I played for Duquette and Tucker at Norfolk Academy, and I’d seen a bunch of my friends come to UVA as undergrad students. I had some connections to the school and it felt right. It felt like a full-circle kind of journey.”

By the start of the 2023 season, Yager had committed to UVA, but neither he nor Tiffany spoke about that publicly.

“I think more than anything I was just personally very focused on my last year at Harvard,” Yager said. “I wanted to make the most of that and didn’t want my teammates to think that my head was anywhere else.”

In February 2023, Harvard played UVA at Klöckner Stadium, giving Yager a first-hand look at his future lacrosse home. The Wahoos prevailed 25-21, and afterward Tiffany shared some news with his players.

“I’ve talked to guys since then, and they said that postgame, in the breakdown huddle, Lars was like, ‘Hey, by the way, nobody’s say anything mean to 38, he’s  coming here next year,’ that kind of thing,” Yager said, laughing.

Yager’s past and present collided this season in Cambridge, Mass., where UVA staged an epic rally to defeat Harvard 13-10 in front of a sellout crowd at Jordan Field.

“It was an interesting experience,” Yager said. “I definitely think it was challenging. I root for Harvard in every game except for that one. I was like, ‘All right, we got to win this game. This one’s a big pride game for me.’ And I think that the only time it hit me the entire game was postgame … My heart kind of hurt for the guys on the other [sideline]. I could imagine being in their shoes just a year before, playing UVA, being up that whole game and having a chance to win it. That’s just such a huge roller coaster, and it would have been such a huge win for them. Obviously, I have no regrets about that [outcome], but it hit me at that moment.”

His experience in Charlottesville has been “everything I wanted,” Yager said. “It’s so cool to play at this level with people who care so much and are so devoted to the sport.

“UVA is an incredible place for a lot of reasons, but it’s definitely, I think, the best place in the country to play lacrosse. It’s such a cool culture, with a lot of people who work so hard, and it’s been awesome to be surrounded by that. It’s made me better as a lacrosse player but also just been a fulfilling experience as an athlete in general.”

Hopkins came to Klöckner in early March to battle Virginia for the Doyle Smith Cup. The Hoos led 10-8 at halftime, but the Blue Jays rallied for a 16-14 victory.

“We all know that we didn’t have our best game,” Yager said, and he and his teammates are excited to get a rematch with Hopkins.

In the NCAA tournament’s first round, Virginia defeated Saint Joseph’s 17-11, and “I think that we feel like we’re clicking and feel like we’re back where we want to be,” Yager said.

He hopes to play for the California Redwoods in the Premier Lacrosse League after finishing his UVA career. The Redwoods drafted Virginia defenseman Cole Kastner this month, and their roster already includes three former Cavaliers: Jared Conners, Charlie Bertrand and Ricky Miezan.

How much he plays in the PLL will depend on his Navy obligations. Yager isn’t sure when he’ll begin Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I.

“It’s looking more and more like my start will be probably August or September,” Yager said. “I would try to make it in September just so if I do get a chance to play in the PLL I can do the full season without having to worry too much about the logistics and balancing both of those at once.”

He hopes to follow his lead of his parents, who also were Division I student-athletes, and become a Navy pilot. “I’m eager to get started,” Yager said. “I have enjoyed every minute of my college experience, but six years is a long time to be in college.”

The appeal of a Navy career?

“I think that there are a bunch of aspects,” Yager said. “The easy one is the service aspect of giving back. I love this country, love that my parents defended it and fought for it, and love the idea of giving back to that cause myself and defending our freedoms.

“But I also think even more than that, the military presents kind of an opportunity to keep being a part of a team, and a competitive team in a lot of ways. I’ve loved athletics, I’ve loved college sports, I’ve loved lacrosse, and I’m not ready to really say goodbye to that team aspect and that high-performance aspect. Having talked to my parents about their experiences in the Navy, I could tell right away that it was very similar, in terms of they’re training every day with the same people, they’re trying to get better incrementally every single day so they can do their mission the best way they can, and they’re making lifelong friendships along the way in their commitment to this team. And so right away I was just like, ‘That sounds exactly like what I want to do.’ ”

Yager smiled. “And then on top of that is just, flying planes sounds pretty awesome.”

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