MULAY: End-of-season awards for Virginia men’s lacrosse

Highlighting the best of the 2019 National Champion Cavaliers

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Sophomore attackman Matt Moore's historic season powered Virginia to a national championship. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The Virginia men’s lacrosse team finished on top, capping off a miraculous season with a national championship, the sixth in program history. Two years after finishing 8-7, with 0 wins in conference play — Coach Lars Tiffany’s first year at Virginia — the Cavaliers are national champions.

The Cavaliers (17-3, 3-1 ACC) cruised by Yale (15-4, 6-1 Ivy League) in the championship game, after winning the prior two games in dramatic fashion — Virginia beat Maryland in the quarterfinals and Duke in the semifinals through late-game comebacks that ended in overtime victory. Not only did Virginia win the national championship, the Cavaliers also won the ACC regular season title and the ACC Tournament Championship — a trifecta of titles the program hasn’t held simultaneously since 2006. 

With the season over, it’s time to reflect on the Cavaliers’ season and the individual players and moments that made it so special.

Most Valuable Player: Sophomore attackman Matt Moore

Virginia has a number of players who could be considered the team’s MVP this season. Among all the candidates, however, no Cavalier contributed more to the team in 2019 than Moore. Moore scored 46 goals and delivered 43 assists this year, becoming the first Virginia player ever to put up 40-plus goals and assists in a single season. He also set the program’s new single-season points record with 89 total points, breaking a 23-year-old record. Moore’s dual threat as a goalscorer and playmaker made him a uniquely valuable piece for Tiffany. Moreover, Moore was one of only four Cavaliers to start all 20 games this season — a testament to his reliability and consistency all year long. Second on the team in goals and first in assists and points, Moore is well-rounded and versatile. His ability to contribute to Virginia in a variety of ways on a weekly basis is precisely why he is deserving of this award.

Offensive Player of the Year: Junior attackman Michael Kraus 

Based on pure talent alone, Kraus may just be the best player on the Virginia roster. Kraus was second on the team in points this season with 75 total points — 39 goals and 36 assists. Most impressively, Kraus ranked in the top six of the ACC in virtually every relevant offensive statistical category. The Connecticut native led the conference in shots (10 per game) and was second in both assists (2.12 per game) and points (4.41 per game). Kraus was also sixth in goals, averaging 2.29 per game. When the Cavaliers are struggling in attack, Kraus is often the player counted on to produce, and more often than not, he has delivered. From his five-goal performance to lift Virginia over Brown earlier this year to his game-tying goal to save the Cavaliers’ season against Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals, Kraus has repeatedly proven that he is a clutch performer.

Defensive Player of the Year: Junior defenseman Jared Conners 

Although he may not be Virginia’s most heralded player, Conners’ play this season as a defensive-minded long-stick midfielder cannot go unnoticed. Conners leads the team with 27 caused turnovers and is third on the team in ground balls with 57 this season. The New York native is a constant disruptive force in the middle of the field, using his unique skill set to torment opposing offenses. Conners is physically talented and fiercely competitive, which allows him to be one of Virginia’s best cover defenseman. While he may not be the most flashy player, Conners’ play this season earned him a spot on the 2019 USILA All-America first team — the only defensive player from Virginia to be named to the first team.  

Comeback Player of the Year: Senior midfielder Ryan Conrad

In 2018, Conrad’s season came to an unfortunate end when he suffered a lower extremity injury during an ACC regular season match against Syracuse. Despite the injury, Conrad has had an incredible bounce-back year in 2019. Conrad leads all non-faceoff ACC players with 95 ground balls this season. However, Conrad isn’t just one of the best wings in the country. He has also scored 31 goals to go along with 18 assists. One of the most well-rounded players on the team, Conrad consistently excelled — especially in important matches. Conrad’s play this season never suggested he had been injured the previous season, and earning first-team USILA All-American honors and the Senior CLASS Award are testaments to his incredible return to form and leadership off the field.

Most Underrated Player: Sophomore attackman Ian Laviano

Six Virginia Cavaliers earned USILA All-American honors this season. However, the program’s top goalscorer didn’t even receive an honorable mention. Laviano has been underrated all year long, despite averaging the second-most goals per game in the ACC with 2.55. Laviano has been a big-time player in 2019. From multi-goal performances that drive epic comebacks to scoring game-tying and game-winning goals, Laviano has been Virginia’s savior time and time again. Laviano didn’t just score a lot of goals, but did so on 38.1 percent shooting — highest on the team for players who have started more than 11 games. Laviano is a poised and effective scorer whose play was critical for Virginia’s impressive regular season and postseason run.

Freshman of the Year: Freshman midfielder Petey LaSalla

Several freshmen have made an impact this season including defenseman Cade Saustad and goalkeeper Patrick Burkinshaw. However, Virginia faceoff specialist LaSalla wins this award as one of the Cavaliers’ biggest contributors, especially down the stretch. LaSalla was one of the most pleasant surprises for the team — a freshman who plays at the X like a seasoned veteran. LaSalla’s 58.7 faceoff win percentage is the second-best mark in the ACC, and he only improved as the season progressed. He performed well against some of the best faceoff men in the country and put on an absolute clinic last weekend against Duke in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Against Duke, in the fourth quarter and overtime, LaSalla won the last eight faceoffs to power Virginia to a thrilling win. Considering his excellent first year with the Cavaliers, it’ll be very exciting to see how LaSalla grows as a player over the course of his career in Charlottesville. 

Goal of the Year: Herring goal against North Carolina April 27

When a team passes, moves and scores as well as Virginia, impressive goals are frequent occurrences. Senior attackman Mikey Herring’s wonder goal against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals is a perfect example of the Cavaliers’ high-octane offense. Running away from the goal, Moore drew the double team and launched a high pass towards the goal. Herring, in between the goalie and a defender, made a leaping grab and hammered the ball into the net from point-blank range in mid-air. The goal wasn’t just a fantastic display of skill and athleticism, but a timely goal for the team. With Herring’s goal, Virginia tied the game at 12 goals apiece with less than six minutes remaining in the game. The Cavaliers eventually won the match 14-13 to advance to the ACC Championship match — which they would go on to win against Notre Dame.

Game of the Year: NCAA semifinal against Duke May 25

The “Cardiac Cavs” have played numerous exciting, down-to-the-wire games this season, including five overtime matches. Virginia’s game against Duke, however, in the first match of Championship Weekend was an instant classic that tops them all in importance and thrill. Duke led from the second quarter all the way up until the last minute of regulation — at one point, the Blue Devils’ lead ballooned to four goals. However, the Cavaliers — in trademark fashion — never wavered and fought their way back into the game. Virginia scored five of the last six goals including the final three goals of the game to shock Duke and advance to the national championship. With less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Kraus scored his only goal of the game, cutting the deficit to one before Laviano tied the game at 12-12 with 15 seconds remaining. Despite numerous shots from both sides in the first overtime period, neither team was able to score. However, early in the second overtime period, Laviano scored yet again to give Virginia the exhilarating victory and send Duke home in heartbreak. This game truly had it all — brilliant performances by both teams, an epic comeback and two overtimes. 

Thing to be most excited about: Virginia’s future

In just his third season with the Cavaliers, Coach Tiffany helped Virginia win the ACC regular season title, the ACC championship and a national championship for the first time since 2011. However, the best part for Virginia fans might be the fact that the Cavaliers are still a very young team. Out of Virginia’s “Big Five” — Moore, Kraus, Laviano, Conrad and junior midfielder Dox Aitken — only Conrad is graduating. In addition to their returning players, the Cavaliers will also be bolstered by one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Three of the the top four players in the Class of 2019, according to Inside Lacrosse, have committed to Virginia, including top recruit and incoming freshman attackman Connor Shellenberger. With the vast majority of Virginia’s championship-winning roster returning and several five-star recruits prepared to make an immediate impact, the Cavaliers will be more than ready to defend their title next season.

Virginia’s massive success this year is not merely limited to these individuals and moments. It took a full coaching staff and roster to help the 2019 Virginia men’s lacrosse team make history.

It was an undeniably special season for the Cavaliers, but it doesn’t end here. Tiffany and company has revitalized a historically great program that is sure to be a force in the future.

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