The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

SMYTHE: A thank you to the 2021 men’s lacrosse seniors

Thank you to the class that rekindled the tradition and excellence of Virginia men’s lacrosse

<p>The Cavaliers' 2021 class will certainly be remembered for their 2019 ACC and NCAA Championships, but beyond their accolades, will be remembered for their drive, dedication and determination.&nbsp;</p>

The Cavaliers' 2021 class will certainly be remembered for their 2019 ACC and NCAA Championships, but beyond their accolades, will be remembered for their drive, dedication and determination. 

Following the Cavaliers’ 2021 regular season, let’s take the chance to acknowledge the immeasurable contributions of this team in its chase for a second consecutive national championship. Virginia, who heartily welcomed back midfielder Dox Aitken — who left the Cavaliers to pursue one year of football at Villanova — as well as long-stick midfielder Jared Conners, entered the 2021 season with a seasoned and uber-talented senior class. 

The argument can be made that this is quite possibly the most dominant class of players this program has ever witnessed. Attackmen Matt Moore and Ian Laviano have mastered their one-two punch over the past four years, while goalie Alex Rode and defenseman Kyle Kology have remained backbones of stingy Virginia defenses. We shouldn’t forget about graduate transfer attackman Charlie Bertrand — a product of Merrimack College — who currently holds the NCAA Division 1 active record for consecutive games with a point. Bertrand, like Conners and Aitken, also heard his name called in the recent PLL draft. 

Now, before I try to defend this argument, I do understand that several of these players are not necessarily “seniors.” However, has the Virginia men’s lacrosse program ever assembled a team complete with as many decorated, graduating players? The transfer portal — resembling that of NCAA men’s basketball — has grown in popularity and has made it easier for players to seek their preferred destinations. Thus, it is only proper to commend Coach Lars Tiffany for his recruitment of Bertrand to Charlottesville and for the retainments of Conners and Aitken. 

While compiling research, I found it difficult to analyze the performance of graduating seniors before the 2000s, and I apologize if I left out any stellar classes that graced the field at Klöckner. The 2010-2011 Cavalier team — the roster which triumphed against Maryland on Memorial Day — made a very strong case for the most impressive graduating class. Attackman Steele Stanwick, a Tewaaraton Award winner — and the Robin to his Batman, fellow attackman Chris Bocklet — anchored a potent attack, while Colin Briggs and Shamel Bratton catalyzed the midfield until the latter’s mid-season suspension. Perhaps the best Cavalier goalie of the 21st century, Adam Ghitelman sits at No. 2 in career saves and No. 1 in games played while at Virginia. The accolades speak for themselves with this group. 

Perhaps I am being unfair by including several seniors who returned due to the COVID-19 hiatus, and perhaps I believe that the 2010-11 team possessed the most dynamic group of four-year seniors. However, I am simply attempting to pay homage to a special group of young men, those who brought a national title back to Charlottesville and subsequently found themselves dealt a poor hand. Let’s take a closer look at their accomplishments.

Matt Moore and Ian Laviano — Attack:

Moore and Laviano have successfully replaced the Bocklet-Stanwick connection mentioned above, seemingly possessing the tools of telekinesis around the crease. After all, it was Laviano who sent the Cavaliers to the national championship off of a feed from Moore against Duke in 2019. Rewinding four years, it would be easy to proclaim that Matt Moore was neither a project nor a diamond in the rough, having held the No. 4 incoming freshman ranking from Inside Lacrosse in 2017. His size and quickness reflected less of a prototypical attackman and more of a midfield hybrid. Relishing contact instead of fearing it, Moore attacked the cage with urgency and showcased his array of dodges during his time in Charlottesville. 

“Taking his leadership role with the team to astronomical levels … personally taking responsibility for the offense and all of its constituents … to say he is razor-focused and passionate about guiding his teammates is to understate,” Tiffany said about Moore before the start of the 2021 season.  

A 2020 second team All-American, Moore arguably played his best lacrosse the year before, posting a program-high 89 points in a season. All-ACC and All-NCAA Tournament honors only capped off one of the most effective seasons by a Cavalier, and with help from Laviano he would lead Virginia to another national championship. 

Ian Laviano has consistently and often quietly — well, not in terms of his celebrations — dominated the goal-scoring category for the Cavaliers. In 2019, he led the ACC and Virginia with a whopping 51 goals, having burst onto the scene by showcasing his uncanny ability to sneak up on opponents around the crease. The 53rd recruit in the class of 2017, Laviano played an immeasurable role in leading Virginia to the national championship game. All of us probably remember the moment when Laviano, sitting about 10 yards from the goalmouth, let loose a sidearm cannon past the stick of Duke’s Danny Fowler. We all too remember the celebration, and especially the way in which Ian Laviano always carried himself on the field — with unrelenting passion.

“To use the word passionate to describe Ian’s affinity for the game of lacrosse and his teammates only begins to scratch the surface. There is something else there too with Ian – his effort lifts the energy of our practices as he shares his joy for playing,” Tiffany said before Laviano’s shortened 2020 campaign. 

Kyle Kology — Defense — and Alex Rode — Goalie:

Kyle Kology — walk-on turned consistent starter for the Cavaliers — has become the point man for Tiffany’s defensive unit through his knowledge of the game and skill on-ball. Not many actually see valuable minutes after making the team as a walk-on, yet Kology defied all odds to become an honorable mention All-American in 2020. The 6-foot-4 senior led the nation with 2.00 caused turnovers per game and developed a reputation as a serious on-ball threat with the ability to cover nearly any assignment. As the “Dean of the Defense” — according to Tiffany — Kology proved himself as an invaluable communicator and will surely leave Charlottesville with a story to tell. 

Goalie Alex Rode — who enjoyed the protection from Kology for much of his career — came to Virginia with lofty expectations after receiving a No. 10 recruit ranking from Inside Lacrosse in 2017. The road was not as smooth as it would have seemed for the netminder from Baltimore, who struggled early in his freshman season after an 8-6 campaign. However, the sophomore revenge tour would bring forth a national championship and a historic run to Memorial Day, with Rode capturing the title of Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament after going 4-0 with 43 saves. In 2020, the St. Paul’s School product would tally an ACC-high 13.17 saves per game with a .552 save percentage. Clearly, Rode settled in after securing the starting job. His consistency between the pipes has been remarkable, and the 2019 run which he enjoyed will stand the test of time. 

The four seniors mentioned above, with the support of fifth years Aitken, Bertrand and Conners, have combined to create a class that will never be forgotten in Charlottesville. Boasting two of the best offensive players in Virginia lacrosse history — Aitken and Moore — and three defensive mainstays, the Cavaliers have benefited from these seniors’ contributions to the 2019 National Championship run. With an unbelievable wealth of veteran leadership and skill, Tiffany has all the tools at his disposal to cement the legacies of these graduating players.

Thank you to our seniors and fifth years — Dox Aitken, Charlie Bertrand, Jared Conners, Matt Moore, Ian Laviano, Kyle Kology, Alex Rode, Ryan Pride, John Fox, Jackson Appelt, Griffin Harris, Jack Peele and Regan Quinn.