UVA's Doug Knight Enters Hall of Fame After Changing Game With The Dive

Doug Knight discovered reckless abandon provided the easiest path to the goal, but he actually wished he didn't change the game with the dive.

Dom Starsia wasn’t sure what he had when he came across a fearless lefty named Doug Knight in the early 1990s. Knight, a Westminster (Conn.) native, was a three-sport athlete, with hockey and soccer commanding much of his attention instead of lacrosse.

But when newly appointed Virginia coach Starsia pitched Knight on coming to one of the most historic programs in college lacrosse, he accepted. Neither knew what to expect — Starsia on taking a chance on a less heralded recruit and Knight on choosing a sport he did not intend to play in college.

“It was a different part of the country for me,” Knight said of Virginia. “I hadn't been to the Virginia area. … I was fairly certain, since Dom moved his entire family down there, that he wasn't going anywhere. He was certainly one of the big reasons I went down.”

It was an unconventional set of circumstances that led Knight to Virginia, but it worked.

Knight’s arrival in Charlottesville ushered in one of the most successful four-year spans in program history. He may not have been the most skilled player in the country, but his grit and creativity lifted Virginia to a 48-14 record from 1994-1997, including three final four appearances and two championship game losses to Princeton.

He finished his career as the leading scorer in Cavaliers history with 249 points on 165 goals and 84 assists. In doing so, he revolutionized the game of lacrosse with his patented dive that was outlawed soon after he left Virginia.

Then in 2017, Knight — the diamond in the rough for Starsia’s Virginia program — was elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. 

“It hit me pretty hard,” Knight said. “I wasn’t really expecting it. It literally took my breath away. I was on the phone and was just reflecting on my life in lacrosse. It feels like a lifetime ago to me, that I played the game. … [In high school,] I would have told you I wasn’t going to end up playing lacrosse in college.”

To Starsia, Knight had a lasting impact on his coaching career.

“It’s hard to imagine that a kid from Westminster, who barely even wanted to play lacrosse, winds up as Virginia’s all-time leading scorer and now a select of the Hall of Fame,” he said. “You have guys in your career and lifetime — and I’ve been doing this for a long time — who just are some of your favorite guys. And Doug is one of those guys for me.”

But the feeling-out process wasn’t always easy. Knight knew he had to get acclimated with Starsia and his program quickly.

Knight first fought a sickness during the fall of his freshman year, but returned to the field by the end of it. He favored his left hand almost entirely. He wasn’t the strongest player on the team, but he devised ways to beat his opponents' defensemen because he couldn't rely on skill alone.

Starsia found that Knight’s rugged, fearless style of play couldn't be mimicked in practice. It was too costly on his body.

“At Virginia, with me, I had to learn how to look at him in practice, because for him it was always about the game,” Starsia said. "I couldn’t get him to wear pads. He’d wear no pads if he had a choice. At the end of the game, his right side, his rib cage and shoulder, would be completely discolored just from taking a beating. He just kept coming.”

Slowly, Knight became known for one move — the dive.

He drove to goal with an unrivaled ferocity, leaping over the crease to get a better look at the open net, and deposited the ball into the back of the cage. The dive became Knight’s signature move, and it was hard to stop.

With his unorthodox play, Knight led the Cavaliers in scoring in 1996 and helped them to a second national championship game appearance — which ended in an overtime loss to Princeton for a second time.

Looking back, Knight said he regrets that his dive had garnered such national attention that eventually had it banned by the NCAA in 1998 due to safety concerns.

“I wish I actually had not changed the game,” Knight said. “For me, it was the easiest way to score. I think that’s why a lot of people did it. It certainly required a little bit of recklessness and disregard for your personal safety. It was exciting and fun and I wish they would have never changed the rule.”

Reflecting on his career, Knight, who is now the director of Camp Tecumseh on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, became emotional when describing Starsia's impact on him. It was more than a coach-player relationship.

“He was like a second father to me,” Knight said. “To this day, I remember what he said on the field. ‘Call your Mother on Valentine’s Day. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.’ That’s what he would say at the end of every single huddle. That’s a pretty powerful statement. It’s meaningless, but it’s powerful when you think about it.”

Knight wasn’t the most talked-about recruit. He wasn’t the most skilled player in college. He wasn’t the tallest man on the field. But he found a way to the net, and now he’s a Hall of Famer.

It was the lefty out of Westminster School that helped changed the course of lacrosse history.

Doug Knight, Leslie Blankin Lane, Jim McDonald, Laurette Payette, Casey Powell, Jill Johnson Redfern, Brooks Sweet, Robyn Nye Wood and Don Zimmerman will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in a black tie-optional ceremony Sept. 23 at The Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md. The event is nearly sold more information, visit uslacrosse.org/hof.

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