CARON: Men's lacrosse's new future with Tiffany

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A defender from 1988-1990 on coach Dom Starsia Brown teams, Lars Tiffany now takes over the Hall of Famer's Virginia lacrosse program. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The Virginia men’s lacrosse team last week had their final team activity of the fall. With all eyes on Virginia after the departure of lacrosse legend Dom Starsia, this season will be telling for the fate of the program.

Coach Lars Tiffany came to Virginia to replace Starsia, the winningest coach in Division I history. After 24 years and four NCAA championships with the Cavaliers, Starsia was the face of Virginia lacrosse. A 2008 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, Starsia produced more than 125 All-Americans, including 30 first-teamers, and six ACC championships in addition to his national titles in his time at Virginia.

But since their 2011 NCAA championship, the vaunted Cavalier program hasn’t been its usual self — it hasn’t been a formidable force in the ACC. Despite remaining under the direction of the legendary Starsia, they struggled to succeed.

Until 2011, Virginia was a regular contender for the NCAA title — making nine Final Four appearances since 2000. But after their 2011 victory, that strength became increasingly subdued.

After three consecutive finishes in the bottom of the ACC and their 7-8 record last season, going 0-4 in the ACC, the athletic department adjusted and parted ways with Starsia.

But what does this change mean for Virginia lacrosse?

In terms of coaching

Tiffany played for three years under Starsia at Brown and was the former Brown’s head coach. The 1990 graduate started on defense and a two-time captain for Starsia’s Bears.

When Tiffany arrived at Virginia, he brought assistant coaches Sean Kirwan and Kip Turner with him to the program.

Kirwan crafted the NCAA’s most talented fast-break offense in 2016 under Tiffany at Brown. After averaging only 10.6 goals per game, 26th in the nation, Kirwan’s innovative scoring schemes will hopefully help Virginia revamp its struggling offense. Thanks to him, Brown averaged 16.32 goals per game, averaging almost three goals per game more than Villanova, the number two scoring team in the nation in 2016.

With senior goalie Matt Barrett’s suspension for the 2017 season because of a violation of athletic department policy, Turner’s talents will be needed for a successful season for Virginia. Turner, a Virginia lacrosse alum, in 2006 led Virginia to the ACC Championship and NCAA title. He will be a crucial coaching component for Cavalier goalies and face-offs.

This coaching staff means one thing: experts where Virginia needs them.

For the team and recruits

In an interview with “Inside Lacrosse,” Starsia said that his advice to his replacement would be to secure his final recruiting class, to make sure they remain committed to the Cavaliers despite his departure.

“We haven’t reached the playing level the last couple years that we were used to. A lot of it was related to the talent — we didn’t have that Steele Stanwick. But I think those people are on the way,” Starsia said to “Inside Lacrosse.” “The person that gets the job will want to make sure those things stay in place […] All the recruits I’ve spoken to, I’ve said to hang in there.”

In a conference as competitive as the ACC, recruiting will be key to Tiffany’s success. Where Tiffany previously competed against Yale for Ivy League recruits, he now has Syracuse, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Duke — all top teams — to consider as threats to the talent he wants.

Starsia’s star power helped bring Virginia respectable recruiting classes to date. He secured top recruits in the 2017 and 2018 classes with Matt Moore and Ross Pridemore, respectively, and has several solid 2019 prospects that Tiffany needs to tie down. If he can do this while he reshapes his own recruiting to match the cutthroat coaches of the ACC, this team will be well on its way to becoming the Virginia lacrosse team the world is used to.

Here’s where it gets better: two of the three coaches have first-hand knowledge that could be the key to making this transition as smooth as possible.

Turner and Tiffany both played for Starsia during their own collegiate careers. They know how Starsia operated and how he ran the program. They know where the players are coming from, and they can understand the changes the team is dealing with.

The new coaching staff appears to be a good fit for Virginia’s voids — they have the skills needed to fine-tune this talented team and turn them into the powerhouse they once were. But I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of Tiffany’s and Turner’s relationships with Starsia — their insights into the player’s situations and past experiences are more important than anyone has imagined.

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