The Tiffany Effect: Lars Tiffany's Already Significant Imprint on UVA Lacrosse


Five years in at Virginia, and Lars Tiffany already has two national titles.

Lars Tiffany began his second post-national title press conference almost exactly as he had his first, earnestly expressing gratitude for the role Dom Starsia played in his life.

It was Starsia who recruited Tiffany to Brown, and Starsia (along with assistant Marc Van Arsdale, who Tiffany also name-checked Monday) who had stacked some impressive future recruiting hauls in his final seasons at Virginia, even as the Cavaliers’ most recent title receded further from view.

Tiffany is the beneficiary of those efforts, and Virginia’s 2019 and 2021 national titles stemmed in part from them. But the Cavaliers’ riveting run through this spring’s NCAA tournament further cements a reality the rest of the sport must contend with.

If 2019 demonstrated Virginia was back, 2021 is evidence the Cavaliers are unlikely to be leaving a prominent place in college lacrosse anytime soon under Tiffany’s stewardship.

Talent is a factor, certainly. Simply beginning next year’s offense with fifth-year attackman Matt Moore and reigning tournament most outstanding player Connor Shellenberger (whether technically an attackman or a midfielder, it probably doesn’t matter) means the Cavaliers will begin from a position of strength.

Yet this also marked consecutive full seasons in which Virginia figured things out in time to become a juggernaut in May. Two years ago, the Cavaliers won a bunch of close games, then impressively bullied a physical Yale bunch in the title game.

This time, Virginia was a bit more uneven through April but mastered playing from ahead in the postseason. The Cavaliers trailed for all of 20:06 in four NCAA tournament games and never in the second half in the final three rounds.

“When we finally gelled in there somewhere in April and certainly in May, then we became really dangerous, and we were really able to put some points on the board,” Tiffany said.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of it all is how quickly Virginia got back to this point. It’s easy to forget in the wake of consecutive titles, but in the not-too-distant past, the Cavaliers dropped 22 of 23 regular-season ACC games — including 18 in a row.

Those streaks didn’t end until 2018 — Tiffany’s second season in Charlottesville after arriving from Brown and just a little more than three years before the Cavaliers were celebrating consecutive national titles.

Before Virginia was sharing a Memorial Day Weekend stage with Duke and North Carolina, it used both as a barometer.

“We knew we had to get faster and quicker, but playing those two teams, it was like, ‘OK, we need to be faster and quicker and we still need to be big, so we have to up our games when it comes to the recruiting,’” Tiffany said. “That’s the beautiful thing about ACC lacrosse is because it’s so deep, and because of the success that the other teams in our league have had, it raises the bar. We’ve had to get better because of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Duke and North Carolina. We didn’t have a choice.”

Still, there’s more to it than player procurement and tactics, and for all of Tiffany’s emphasis on culture since his arrival — heck, since at least his time at Brown — it’s not hard to reach the conclusion Virginia has found something of a secret sauce that produces Memorial Day victory laps.

If belief was a cornerstone of the 2019 run — and with a 5-0 record in overtime, including victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals, it pretty much had to be — familiarity was a significant variable this year.

Many of the stars from two years ago, including Moore, attackman Ian Laviano and goalie Alex Rode played starring roles again. The Cavaliers didn’t have a major surplus of fifth-year seniors eligible to return because of the NCAA’s blanket eligibility waiver, but long pole Jared Conners and midfielder Dox Aitken were both valuable. (There’s a strong case to be made that Conners is Virginia’s MVP). Former Merrimack star Charlie Bertrand, now a three-time national champion thanks to his Division II exploits, was the only addition via transfer.

Much was made of Virginia’s three-week layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of the NCAA tournament, as well as Tiffany’s consultation with Cavaliers football coach Bronco Mendenhall on how to deal with a run-up to the postseason that mirrored bowl prep. And there’s no doubt all of that will be part of the lasting legacy of this year’s run.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten Tiffany had long since molded this roster, one that largely had a sense of how to succeed in the postseason.

“A lot of people work very hard and do all the right things and never get to this spot,” Conners said. “We’ve got to take into account the luck factor and being in the right place at the right time, but also take into account that we haven’t taken a day off and we’re doing all the right things behind closed doors.”

In a nutshell, that’s Tiffany’s Virginia lacrosse program. Five years in, it has two national titles and the coach’s already considerable imprint to show for it. The Cavaliers seem far from finished in adding to both.

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