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CAMPBELL: Virginia Men’s Lacrosse is primed for another championship run

After back-to-back national championships, the Cavaliers have the talent to bring the title back to Charlottesville

<p>Virginia celebrates a goal during the team's National Championship win over Maryland last May.</p>

Virginia celebrates a goal during the team's National Championship win over Maryland last May.

Virginia lacrosse is known for championships. With seven ACC championships and seven NCAA championships, the team has been in the upper echelon of college lacrosse for most of its history. Recently, they have been dominating the college lacrosse scene with back-to-back national championships. They couldn't possibly three-peat, right? Well, the odds are higher than you may think. 

In 2019, Virginia cruised through the regular season with an 17-3 record, which was capped off with an ACC Tournament title and a historic run through the NCAA tournament. Two overtime wins against Maryland and Duke brought them to face Yale in the national championship, where the Cavaliers came out as victors.

After the 2020 year was cut short because of COVID-19, the Cavaliers were hungry for another chance to claim a championship. Following a highly successful regular season, the Cavaliers faced Bryant University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, where they barely snuck by the Bulldogs. Championship weekend was filled with drama as two single goal victories brought them back-to-back championships, an astonishing feat in this era of college lacrosse. 

Now as the 2022 season approaches, Virginia is primed for another run to the top of the college lacrosse world. Its quest begins Saturday as the team takes on a solid Air Force team at home. The Cavaliers will face Syracuse in their first ACC matchup Feb. 26 at home. Lacrosse legend Gary Gait is new at the helm for the Orange this season and their talented midfield will be a tough matchup for the Cavaliers’ defensive midfielders. After losing twice to the Orange last season, Virginia should be ready to attack in their first conference matchup.

While the path through the ACC is obviously tough with five preseason top 20 teams, Virginia’s out of conference matchups versus Big 10 foes Maryland and Johns Hopkins will be a chance for the Cavaliers to prove to the country that they belong. 

After losing to Virginia by one goal in the NCAA championship game last season, Maryland should be ready to prove to itself that they can beat the reigning national champions. Graduate student attackman Logan Wisnauskus and graduate student midfielder Bubba Fairman are big offensive threats that might cause the Cavaliers some trouble. Along with Virginia, the Terrapins are the favorites to reach the national championship game again. 

Johns Hopkins has not had a winning season since 2018, but second year head coach Peter Milliman should be able to return Johns Hopkins to excellence again. The fight for the Doyle Smith Cup is always competitive between the Blue Jays and the Cavaliers. This season should be no different as shifty senior attackman Joey Epstein could lead Johns Hopkins back to the top of the Big 10. 

The talent on this year’s version of Virginia lacrosse is immense. However, the talent across the country is arguably the best it's ever been. The Ivy League is finally back after its season was suspended last year because of the conference’s COVID-19 policies. Penn, Yale and Princeton should be hungry to compete after two seasons on the sidelines. Superstars such as North Carolina’s Chris Gray, Duke’s Nakai Montgomery and Maryland’s Wisnauskas to name a few, are scattered all across the country. The ACC has five teams in the preseason top 20, all of which have the talent to make a run for the title in May. 

Even if Virginia shows dominance through the regular season, it always takes a little luck to win on championship weekend. However, Virginia has shown that they can get lucky. In their first title run in 2019, they barely escaped Maryland and Duke before beating Yale in the national title. Last season, after almost losing to Bryant in the first round, it took a close win against North Carolina before a miraculous save in the final seconds to beat Maryland in the national championship. In every single sport, luck is needed to win a championship. Virginia fans know this well, after the men’s basketball tournament run in 2019 and the last two lacrosse championships. Virginia returns veterans with championship experience who will help guide the team through the season to hopefully another championship. 

Even though Virginia’s path to a three-peat will be difficult, the odds are in its favor with the team’s championship experience and immense talent at all three levels of the game.