U.Va. men's lacrosse beats UMD for 2011 title
Victory was team's fifth title overall and fourth under coach Dom Starsia
After a trying season both on and off the field, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team left Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium May 30, 2011 as NCAA Champions. The title was the program’s fifth ever and fourth during coach Dom Starsia’s reign at Virginia, which began in 1992.
The Cavaliers (13-5) jumped out to a 5-3 halftime lead courtesy of a five-goal second quarter and then kept pace with ACC-rival Maryland (13-5) the rest of the way to pull out a 9-7 victory. Junior midfielder Colin Briggs scored five goals en route to being named the Championship’s Most Outstanding Player, just one game after being suspended for the NCAA semifinal game against Denver for an unspecified violation of team rules.
“I was definitely disappointed in myself,” Briggs told reporters. “But I just thought to myself that I would come back [for the championship game] and I was able to get some opportunities.”
Briggs’ transgression wasn’t the only off-field trouble the Cavaliers ran into that season. Former player George Huguely’s arrest for the murder of Virginia women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love in 2010 and the arrest of eight players for alcohol-related crimes brought increased scrutiny to the team and spurred the players to adopt a stricter alcohol policy for the 2011 season.
The policy didn’t garner unanimous support, and was most notably opposed by star senior midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton. The twin brothers unsuccessfully lobbied other players to change the policy and made it clear that they would not comply with the new rules. Both were suspended before the Cavaliers’ 11-10 overtime win at then-No. 5 Stony Brook, and Shamel was also suspended before the team’s 12-7 regular season loss to the Terrapins at Scott Stadium.
After a third violation of team rules, Starsia dismissed Shamel, a two-time first-team All-American, the day before the regular season finale versus then-No. 13 Pennsylvania at Klöckner Stadium, while also suspending Rhamel, a second-team All-American, indefinitely for his second infraction. Rhamel would not be reinstated for the NCAA Tournament.
“[Shamel] has made many contributions to the program,” Starsia said in a press release. “At the same time, there are standards of behavior within the framework of the team that we expect to be met by all of our student-athletes. Failure to do so on a consistent basis has resulted in the loss of the privilege of being a member of this team.”
But if anything, the absence of the Cavaliers’ star players seemed to have a shockingly beneficial impact. Virginia had lost four of its last five games that the Brattons played in but went on a tear after their dismissal, crushing the Quakers 11-2 to conclude the regular season and then defeating Bucknell 13-12 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Seventh-seeded Virginia then upset second-seeded Cornell 13-9 behind a seven-point performance from junior attackman and 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy-winner Steele Stanwick, and trounced Denver 14-8 in the semifinals to earn a rematch with the Terrapins for the title.
“Being here after a lot of rough times, especially through this roller coaster ride that we had … I couldn’t ask for a better class,” Briggs said.
Virginia would then go on to become the lowest seed ever and first five-loss team to win an NCAA Championship, a marked turnaround from just a month prior.
The Terrapins opened scoring with a goal from senior attackman Grant Catalino and shut out the Cavaliers in the first quarter. But Briggs would tally a hat trick in the second quarter, while sophomore attackman Nick O’Reilly and sophomore midfielder Matt White found the back of the net.
Catalino’s goal midway through the third quarter sparked a 3-0 Terrapin run, with senior attackman Ryan Young tying the game at 6-all off a Catalino assist with 11:43 left to play. But consecutive goals by White and Briggs’s fifth strike would push the Cavalier lead back to three with less than two minutes in the game.
O’Reilly assisted on four goals, while his five points were also a career-best, garnering the attackman All-Tournament honors. Stanwick recorded one assist, also named to the All-Tournament team along with Briggs, White and senior defenseman Bray Malphrus. Freshman attackman Mark Cockerton rounded out scoring for Virginia in the Championship, assisting on two goals.
By leading the Cavaliers through arguably one of its most trying seasons — both mentally and physically — in recent history, Starsia took home his fourth national championship and 329th Division I win, passing legendary coach Jack Emmer (326) for the all-time record. The 2011 team’s remarkable reversal also garnered Starsia an ESPY nomination for Best Coach, which he lost to Dallas Mavericks coach and former Virginia basketball captain Rick Carlisle.
“The fact that we are here right now [as NCAA Champions] is a credit to the team and my family and the people at Virginia,” Starsia said. “We had to reconfigure ourselves midway through the season; they had to decide that it was important enough to pick themselves up and get going again … I am very proud of these guys and what they have done.”