Virginia Focuses on Defense, Faceoffs in Tiffany's Second Year


Dox Aitken broke program records for goals and points by a freshman midfielder and aims to improve for a building Virginia program under coach Lars Tiffany.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 16 Virginia

Coach: Lars Tiffany (2nd year at Virginia)
2017 Record: 8-7 (0-4 ACC)
All-Time Record: 628-361-6
NCAA Appearances: 37
Final Fours: 22
Championships: 5

The offense got all of the headlines when Lars Tiffany took Brown to the 2016 NCAA semifinals. So, when he was named as the head coach at Virginia last year, people salivated to see what he would do with some of top-tier offensive talent in Charlottesville.

The offense didn’t disappoint, finishing third in the country at 14.4 goals per game. But here’s the rub: as good as Brown was on offense during the end of his tenure (its 16.3 goals per game in 2016 was more than 2.7 goals higher than No. 2 Villanova), two of the big keys to helping that offense were Will Gural’s dominance on the draw (69.9 percent, No. 2 in the country) and Jack Kelly’s superb play in goal (nation leading 60.7 save percentage).

Virginia didn’t have those pieces last year. The Cavaliers goalies combined to save just 46.4 percent and while the Cavaliers weren’t terrible at the X, winning 52.7 percent, they didn’t get on the make-it, take-it runs that helped Brown become so dominant.

Improving in those two key areas is critical for Tiffany in year two, and improving the goaltending falls in large part on improving the defense overall.

“We were really, really bad on defense last year,” Tiffany said. “We changed some things with our team defense and ended the fall looking much better. I’m encouraged by the guys we have at the back.”

In goal, sophomore Griffin Thompson is back after winning the job midway through the season. Thompson stopped 48.8 percent of the shots he saw and tied a Virginia freshman record with 18 saves in a win over Robert Morris. He will be pushed heavily by highly-touted freshman Alex Rode, who Tiffany says is not only a capable stopper, but is a strong outlet passer that will help the transition game.

For faceoffs, sophomore Luke Brugel returns after winning 52.7 percent of his 169 draws as the Cavaliers' No. 2 guy last year. The Cavaliers have also added Monmouth transfer Justin Schwenk, who was the MAAC Rookie of the Year last season after winning 51.9 percent of his 316 faceoffs last year.

The Case For Virginia

Year one of the Lars Tiffany regime and Sean Kirwan’s potent offensive philosophy resulted in the nation’s No. 3 offense. The leading scorer, Michael Kraus, was a freshman. Two other 40-point scorers, Mike D’Amario and Dox Aitken return, as does superb athlete Ryan Conrad. The Cavaliers also welcome one of the nation’s top players from the high school ranks in midfielder Matt Moore, who Tiffany says has the ability to transition to attack. “He’s a heck of an offensive player,” Tiffany said. “He shoots with accuracy and has good speed.” With all of those weapons, Virginia should continue to light up the scoreboard. 

The Case Against Virginia

Almost completely flipped from its offensive prowess, Virginia ranked 65th in the country in scoring defense. The best player on that unit, Tanner Scales, was a fifth-year senior and two-time captain that had earned All-American honors. He graduated and leaves a major void on a unit that struggled even with his leadership and ability. Senior Scott Hooper, who ranked No. 5 nationally with 2.33 caused turnovers per game, will be counted upon to help the Cavaliers back line improve.

Path to the Playoffs

Princeton returns to the Cavaliers’ regular season schedule for the first time since 2008, and that’s one of Virginia’s best chances to make some noise outside of the ACC slate. Virginia opens with Loyola and also plays longtime rival Johns Hopkins, but there does not appear to be many resume-building wins on its non-conference schedule. A trip to the playoffs likely requires Virginia to win within the league, something it has failed to do in recent years.

Players To Watch

Dox Aitken, M, So.
29 G, 11 A

Aitken had a phenomenal rookie year in which he broke UVA records for goals and points by a freshman midfielder to earn honorable mention All-American honors. He only appears to be getting better.

Michael Krauss, A, So.
34G, 22 A

Krauss led Virginia in scoring as a freshman and was named All-ACC, ACC Freshman of the Year and honorable mention All-American. Tiffany also praises his riding ability, a key to help creating the tempo the Cavaliers like to play.

Ryan Conrad, M, Jr.
17 G, 63 GB

Conrad is one of the best athletes in the sport. He led the nation in ground balls for non-faceoff or defensive players. He also added 17 goals to earn All-ACC and third-team All-American honors. The former No. 1 recruit nationally in his class has been voted a team captain as a junior and will be a key leader for the Cavaliers.

National Rankings




Offense 3rd 14.40 GPG
Defense 65th 13.27 GAA
Faceoffs 25th 52.7%
Ground Balls 1st 43.33/game
Caused TO 9th 9.13/game
Shooting 21st 31.1%
Man-Up 8th 48.1%
Man-Down 36th 64.3%
Assists 3rd 9.13/game
Turnovers 56th 15.13/game
Clearing 18th 88.8%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






Number of times Virginia scored double-digit goals and still lost the game. Most disturbing was scoring 17 goals in a game at Johns Hopkins, but losing in overtime in a game it led by six goals early.

5-Year Trend
Assists Per Game




2013 35th 10.53
2014 47th 11.13
2015 49th 11.00
2016 37th 10.33
2017 65th 13.27

Coach Confidential
Lars Tiffany

“We have to find success in the ACC. The Cavaliers have won just one regular season league game in the last five years combined. March 4 is too early for a must-win game, but a home match-up against Syracuse in its first league game is important."

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

"Only two seniors does not bode well for leadership, and thus why a third year, Ryan Conrad, is one of the two captains (with Scott Hooper). ... The coaching staff has not solved the faceoff issue: UVA will be worse, not better, at the X in 2018. ... Did you know that at the beginning of the month of November, UVA had zero goalies ready to play a game? One quit, two were injured and the fourth was suspended for making bad decisions off the field. Don’t be surprised if the starting goalie this spring looks awfully similar to a previous Wahoo goalie. ... So much talent. Can they get it right on defense? ... Time to see if the men of Virginia can win some games. ... I believe it takes six years until you get your program the way you want it to look. Not that you’re getting rid of previous players, but it takes time for your seniors to understand your philosophy. … With Conrad and Aitken, talent-wise they are always going to be fun to watch. … It’s a difficult situation to step into, but they’re not going to be that fifth-place team for long, that’s for sure. ... Their [up-tempo] style puts a lot of pressure on their goalie. They force you to go to the goal. I think they’re going to try to dial it back somewhat schematically. They will still push the ball and run a lot on offense, but also change it up and do a better job of protecting leads and not let the craziness take over."

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