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No. 4 Virginia men’s lacrosse takes down No. 3 Maryland to repeat as national champions

The Cavaliers defeated the Terrapins in a 17-16 nail biter to successfully defend their title

This is the second national championship for Coach Lars Tiffany during his five years with the Cavaliers.
This is the second national championship for Coach Lars Tiffany during his five years with the Cavaliers.

In the most unique of years, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team is the last one standing. Two years removed from the 2019 national championship game, in which Virginia took down Yale 13-9, the No. 4 Cavaliers (14-4, 2-4 ACC) held on to win in nail-biting fashion against long-time rival No. 3 Maryland (15-1, 10-0 Big Ten) in a thrilling matchup. 

The teams combined for the most goals in NCAA Championship game history, as both teams put on an impressive display of offensive firepower. The Cavaliers were paced yet again by redshirt freshman attackman Connor Shellenberger and senior attackman Matt Moore, who both finished with four goals and two assists on the afternoon. Junior midfielder Jeff Conner also notched a hat-trick, alongside sophomore attackman Payton Cormier who had two goals on the day.

Maryland sophomore attackman Danny Maltz opened up the affair with his 39th goal of the season. The teams traded two goals apiece, with Moore and junior midfielder and faceoff specialist Petey LaSalla knotting the game at two.

Maryland’s star senior attackman Jared Bernhardt assisted on the next two goals, as Maryland took a 4-2 lead with three minutes left in the first frame. However, the Cavaliers fired back with two goals of their own, courtesy of Conner and Shellenberger, as the first quarter ended tied at four.

The Cavaliers continued to change the momentum of the game, scoring four more goals in a row to extend it and go on a 6-0 run. Cormier, Shellenberger, Conner and senior long-stick midfielder Jared Conners each registered goals, giving Virginia an 8-4 lead. 

Bernhardt proceeded to take things into his own hands to stop the bleeding, scoring two goals in a row, and Maryland graduate attackman Griffin Brown added his first of the contest, pulling within one goal. Shellenberger answered back, assisting Cormier with just 25 seconds left in the half, sending both teams to the locker room with the Cavaliers up 9-7.

Maryland Coach John Tillman rallied his troops during the intermission, as the Terrapins came out guns blazing. Senior attackman Logan Wisnauskas had a hat-trick in the first six minutes of the half, along with senior midfielder Roman Puglise who added another. Conner and senior midfielder Dox Aitken were able to keep Virginia competitive during Wisnauskas’ run, however, as the game was tied at 11 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers showed grit and determination, and bounced back with an incredible 5-0 run of their own into the fourth quarter to take a 16-11 lead. Moore and Shellenberger both added two during the run, with sophomore midfielder Peter Garno scoring his 22nd goal of the season as well.

With a commanding 16-11 lead with just 11 minutes left to play, the Cavaliers made the Terrapins feel the pressure as their season was on the line. Maryland, however, was unfazed — the Terrapins, battle-tested after traveling to Notre Dame the weekend before and dominating Duke in the semifinal game, produced a 4-0 effort to bring the game within one with just under four minutes left. Wisnauskas, Maltz, senior midfielder Bubba Fairman and senior midfielder Anthony DeMaio all scored for the Terrapins, reversing the momentum and making the Cavaliers feel the pressure right back.

Off the ensuing faceoff, LaSalla won the draw and in a wild turn of events, sophomore defender Cade Saustad assisted Moore for his fourth goal of the day, extending the Cavaliers’ lead to two. 

In another up-and-down sequence, DeMaio scored yet again for the Terrapins, pulling the game within one with just 11 seconds left on the season. Maryland sophomore faceoff specialist Luke Wierman won the ensuing faceoff forward to himself, sending a last-second shot attempt on goal.

Senior goalie Alex Rode, the 2019 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, was able to make a body save, icing the game and giving the Cavaliers their seventh national championship in program history.

“I had a rough day, it wasn’t my best day in goal,” Rode said. “FOGO took a shot and I was a little nervous. I thought I owed my team a couple.”

The Terrapin run proved to be too little, too late, as Virginia held on in nail-biting fashion to win its second consecutive NCAA Championship. Celebration ensued after Rode’s 12th save of the day as Coach Lars Tiffany’s men flocked towards the roaring Virginia crowd in excitement.

Shellenberger absolutely lived up to his expectations as a former No. 1 overall recruit, scoring four goals and two assists in the game, alongside two goals and four assists in the semifinal win over No. 1 North Carolina. The 2021 Final Four Most Outstanding Player had 14 goals and 10 assists in his first NCAA tournament.

“It was interesting last year, [Shellenberger] was on scout team, tearing us apart and we were like ‘This kid’s really going to redshirt?” Conners said.

With three more remaining years of eligibility, Shellenberger, a Charlottesville native, has the opportunity to solidify his place in Virginia lacrosse history in the upcoming years — even beyond this year’s accomplishments.

“It truly means everything,” Shellenberger said. “It’s why you put so many hours in in the fall as a team, why you do all the extra things you do. It’s our dream”

Moore, who despite his senior tag will come back for a fifth and final year, recorded another four goals and two assists after missing parts of the North Carolina win due to a shoulder injury. Shellenberger, Moore and Cormier all intend on returning to Charlottesville, with 15 of the 17 Virginia goals being scored by players returning next year.

“Matt Moore’s performance was heroic, the pain he was playing through,” Tiffany said. “There was no question he was playing … he was going to let it all hang out there.”

The Terrapins were led by Wisnauskas’ five goals, which kept Maryland within arms-reach the whole game. Bernhardt ended up with two goals and three assists to wrap up an illustrious career in the Maryland uniform, finishing as Maryland’s career leader in points and goals. He still remains the odds-on favorite to win the Tewaaraton Award next month as the best player in college lacrosse.

In any sport, winning a championship is incredibly difficult. Winning two is even harder, and winning back-to-back titles is a rarity. Tiffany and company were able to end a crazy 2021 season on top, in a year with more talent than ever before. The culture change he has instilled and revitalization of the program since his first year in 2017 has been remarkable, as the Cavaliers look to establish themselves as a bonafide dynasty in the near future. 

“I can’t wait for this 10-hour bus ride home,” Tiffany said. “I never want it to end.”

While next season is what many Cavalier fans are looking forward to, the family that Tiffany has created amongst his men are surely celebrating. And with that, it has been decided — Virginia has repeated as national champions.

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