COLLEGE PARK, Md.-Entering the May 27 NCAA men's lacrosse semifinal, Virginia had everything working in its favor. The Cavaliers were the defending champions. They had a 13-game winning streak, longest in the nation. And they had beaten Princeton, their semifinal opponent, in each of their last three meetings.
What happened next was unexplainable, said Cav coach Dom Starsia. Star attackman Drew McKnight "never thought this would happen." His linemate Conor Gill said it was "impossible to accept."
"I found myself in the locker room with nothing to say," said McKnight after the Cavs (13-2) played one of their worst games of the season in their biggest and were eliminated by the Tigers (12-3), 12-11.
The crowd of 24,105 at Byrd Stadium never saw the Virginia team that tied a school record with 13 wins. It never saw the team that handily defeated the same Tigers March 11, 15-8, with stifling defense and polished play. Instead, the Cavs allowed Princeton 36 shots to their 34 and took six penalties to the Tigers' two. The Tigers whittled into a three-goal Virginia lead and scored five in the final quarter to advance to their fourth championship game in five years.
Down by one, Virginia had the ball and a chance to tie with less than a minute left, but failed to get a shot off until the final seconds. After a timeout with six seconds left, midfielder Jay Jalbert's desperation sling floated wide left of the cage.
Jalbert, who finishes his college career fifth on Virginia's all-time goal-scoring list, was held to one goal on eight shots. McKnight scored three goals against Princeton March 11 but managed only three shots in his final game. Princeton coach Bill Tierney credited his defense for holding the Cavs to 34 shots, their second-lowest total of the season.
The Cavaliers took 56 groundballs to Princeton's 35, won 15 of 27 face-offs, and converted on both of their extra-man opportunities, but couldn't string together the multiple-goal run that had put their opponents away all season.
Said Starsia: "It's very difficult to be here and have this end like this. We picked an inopportune time to play poorly."
The Tigers advanced to the final with the victory, but lost to Syracuse March 29, 13-7. The Orangemen won their sixth national title, first since 1995, behind a six-goal performance from Liam Banks.