By Jeff White (

PHILADELPHIA — Given the top-level talent that departed the University of Virginia men’s lacrosse program at the end of last season, including such mainstays as Cade Saustad, Thomas McConvey, Xander Dickson, Jeff Conner, Grayson Sallade and Petey LaSalla, head coach Lars Tiffany takes considerable pride in his 2024 team’s journey to the NCAA semifinals.

“In a lot of ways, there’s a joy and a success that we got back here despite having lost about 19 men,” Tiffany said Saturday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.

That said, he’s realistic. “I’m at the University of Virginia,” Tiffany added. “We don’t measure ourselves by hanging Final Four banners; we measure ourselves with titles.”

The Cavaliers have been crowned NCAA champions seven times: in 1972, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2019 and 2021. Their pursuit of an eighth NCAA title will resume when the next school year begins.

For the second straight year, UVA’s season ended with a loss in the NCAA semifinals.

In 2023, Notre Dame scored the final three goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to edge Virginia 13-12. There was no late-game heartbreak this year. No. 7 seed Maryland gave up the game’s first goal Saturday but dominated the rest of the way in a 12-6 win over No. 6 seed UVA at the Linc.

The Wahoos finished the season, their eighth under Tiffany, with a 12-6 record. Maryland, which improved to 11-5, will meet top-seeded Notre Dame in the title game Monday afternoon. The reigning NCAA champion Fighting Irish crushed No. 5 seed Denver 13-6 in the first semifinal Saturday.

During the regular season, the Hoos defeated the Terrapins 14-10 in College Park, Md., but the rematch unfolded much differently. Luke Wierman won 15 of 22 faceoffs for the Terps on Saturday, starving Virginia of possession.

“On one of those days where we needed the ball more, Luke Wierman wouldn’t allow that to happen,” Tiffany said.

And so ended an up-and-down season that included a four-game losing streak as well as NCAA tournament wins over Saint Joseph’s and No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins.

“What a ride this has been, the year 2024, for us,” Tiffany said during a postgame press conference at which two of his All-Americans, seniors  Connor Shellenberger and Cole Kastner, joined him.

“I hoped I was going to be here as winning coach saying, ‘What a ride,’ ” Tiffany said, “that our 10-man ride was able to get us some extra possessions like we were last weekend against Johns Hopkins that allowed … the come-from-behind victory to happen. But it wasn’t to be.”

McCabe Millon (9)

For the season, the Hoos averaged 13.8 goals per game, with graduate student Payton Cormier (65), freshman McCabe Millon (41) and Shellenberger (32) leading the way. But Virginia’s offense often sputtered late in the season against elite opponents.

The Cavaliers’ six goals Saturday were their fewest in a game during Tiffany’s tenure.

“We were generating a lot of shots,” Tiffany said, “but we just weren’t putting them on cage, and we played too much defense as it went on … We got beat and we got beat soundly by a coaching staff with a great defensive game plan, and couldn’t generate enough offense when we did have the ball. And we tip the proverbial cap to [Maryland head coach] John Tillman and wish him well in the national championship game against Notre Dame.”

Against Maryland, Millon was the only UVA player to score more than one goal. His first cut the Terps’ lead to 6-3. His second, midway through the fourth quarter, made it 11-6 and gave him the program record for goals in a season by a freshman.

“I think we just needed to be a little bit more patient,” Millon said. “We were kind of taking the first shot instead of the best shot. But we were generating offense. We took a ton of shots, just probably not those A-plus shots that you usually want to look for.”

Roommates Shellenberger and Cormier had record-setting careers at UVA, and neither player envisioned this ending. Cormier, whose 224 career goals are the most in Division I men’s history, scored only once Saturday, off a Shellenberger pass early in the fourth quarter.

“Since I’ve been here an extended period of time, just realizing that it’s coming to an end is definitely a tough pill to swallow,” Cormier said. “But you’ve got to live with it and sort of wake up the next day and sort of go forward.”

Cormier enrolled at UVA in the summer of 2018. Shellenberger, who grew up in the Charlottesville area, arrived a year later and, after redshirting in 2020, became the first four-time first-team All-American in program history. His 192 career assists are most by a player in ACC history, and his 323 career points are a Virginia record.

Shellenberger choked up when asked about being part of the UVA program for five years.

“It means everything,” he said. “I’ve been going to the games since I was 10, 11 years old. This team means everything. I just can’t believe it’s over.”

Shellenberger committed to the Cavaliers early in Tiffany’s tenure at UVA. “So in a sense, even though he’s only been with the team for the last five years, he’s been a part of UVA lacrosse for my entire eight-year career,” Tiffany said. “So I don’t know life at UVA without him.

“It’s Patrick Mahomes retiring. He’s our quarterback. He does everything. He’s just so humble, so wonderful to be around. Not a conceited, arrogant bone in his body. It’s going to be really hard to replace that.”

Chase Yager (23) and Cole Kastner (39)

Shellenberger scored the game’s first goal Saturday, which seemed to bode well for the Cavaliers. But Maryland defenseman Ajax Zappitello, whom the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association recently named the nation’s most outstanding player, blanketed him the rest of the way, and Shellenberger finished with two points.

In his first start as a Cavalier, goalie Kyle Morris made five saves and allowed 11 goals before giving way to Matthew Nunes late in the third quarter. Neither shined Saturday, but a bigger issue for Virginia was Maryland’s dominance at the faceoff-X. Thomas Colucci fared better than Anthony Ghobriel against Wierman, but the Terps dominated possession, and the Hoos’ defense eventually wore down on a hot, humid afternoon.

Tiffany praised the grit of Ghobriel and Coluccci, each of whom is scheduled to have surgery this week.  “They have been held together by [athletic trainer] Rebecca Vozzo and our training staff with magic tape,” Tiffany said.

In the March 16 game in College Park, Wierman won 16 of 28 faceoffs, but the Cavaliers “did a great job of tying him up and, at times, just not letting him get out, being physical, the wings getting involved,” Tillman said.

“If you ask Luke, he definitely didn’t have his best game. So I do think he was focused [Saturday] … I think he was dialed in. He was ready to go.”

Virginia took a 9-1 record into its ACC opener against North Carolina. The Cavaliers pounded the Tar Heels 14-6 but then dropped their next four games: all against conference rivals that went on to make the NCAA tournament. Two of those losses were to Notre Dame.

Unlike some of Tiffany’s previous teams at UVA, this group had trouble establishing an identity.

“This is who we are this year,” Tiffany said. “There were some days we gave up 18 goals on defense. There were some other days we gave up seven or eight. So we’re not really a defensive-minded team.”

If he were writing a book about his UVA coaching career, Tiffany said, he wouldn’t know what title he’d use for the chapter on this season. But he stressed that he’s “tremendously grateful” for his players’ perseverance and commitment.

“We’ve already had three men go under the knife,” Tiffany said, “and we have four, five surgeries coming up next week. We look more like a Civil War battle unit than any other team I’ve ever had as we’re limping here to the finish line. And Connor has been fighting through things that we don’t like to talk about with the media, and as a lot of the men are.”

Shellenberger and Kastner took questions from media members during the first part of the press conference, then headed back to the locker room.

“Gonna miss those guys,” Tiffany said.

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