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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The University of Virginia holds one of the most successful and storied Division I men’s lacrosse programs in the country with 38 NCAA Tournament appearances, 22 trips to the Final Four, six ACC titles and five national championships.
UVA last won the national championship in 2011, but in recent years, the program has seen its competition within the ACC catch up, with Duke (2010, 2013, 2014), North Carolina (2016), and Syracuse (2008, 2009) all claiming national championships throughout the past decade.
In 2016 and 2017, the Cavaliers missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1979. Long-time head coach Dom Starsia stepped down following the conclusion of the 2016 season and Lars Tiffany took over the reigns.
This past season, Virginia fought its way back to the NCAA Tournament with a 12-6 overall record (1-3 ACC) and recorded their first ACC victory (15-12 over North Carolina) in three seasons. UVA upended Syracuse (9-7) in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament to seal a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but ended its season with a tough loss to Loyola (14-12) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
One of the many backbones of UVA men’s lacrosse during this rebuilding stretch has been rising senior and defensive midfielder Matt Dziama. A native of Wellesley and a graduate of Wellesley High in 2014, Dziama committed to UVA as a junior in 2013 before playing a year of prep at Deerfield Academy.
In 2015 and 2016, Dziama played in all 15 of UVA’s games, picking up 24 groundballs and causing three turnovers as a freshman in 2015 before scooping 19 GB’s and causing three turnovers as a sophomore in 2016. Last season, Dziama was plagued by injuries, missing Virginia’s first three games due to an offseason injury before making a return, only to miss the final seven games of the season with another injury.
Now a senior and heading into his final season at Virginia, Dziama says that he and his teammates hope to build off of the success they achieved in 2018. On a more personal note, Dziama hopes to stay healthy and make significant contributions to his team the way he did as an underclassman.
“Last year was a huge step forward for us as a team to make it to the tournament,” said Dziama. “Coach Tiffany and the rest of the coaching staff have a lot of trust in us and we have a lot of trust in them. This year will be a really special year and the goal is to make it to Memorial Day weekend. We had a good year last year, but not even close to where we wanted to be. The vibe this year is really good. We’re hungry and kids are pissed off for success. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, and it’s been nothing but positivity and hard work this summer moving into fall ball. Our overall goal besides winning the ACC and getting to Memorial Day is for teams to hate to play us. We want teams walking off the field and thinking to themselves ‘Damn, I never want to play them again.’ It’s going to be a good year.”
Along with Matt, several members the Dziama family have gone on to have immense amounts of success in college athletics, including Matt’s father, Jeff, a former New York Jets draft pick and linebacker at Boston College. Other Dziamas making a name for themselves in the college sports include Matt’s brother, Ty, who played football at Trinity, Justin Dziama, Matt’s cousin who played hockey at BC and helped the Eagles to the 2001 national championship, and Jett Dziama, Matt’s cousin who just graduated from Nobles and will play lacrosse at Boston University.
“It has been really cool,” said Dziama when asked about his family’s NCAA success. “To see a bunch of my uncles, my dad, my brother, and cousins play sports while I was growing up was something special. I feel like I have accomplished a good amount in my career so far, but I’m not even close to where I want to be. I got injured last season and kind of lost a year, so I’m hungry for a good year this upcoming season. Watching my brother, Ty, and my cousin, Justin, helped my game a lot. Not necessarily lacrosse-wise, but from a competitor’s standpoint. They played with a ton of passion and grit and when I play, I try and play how I remember they did.”
So what makes the Dziama family so successful in sport? Matt says hard work and dedication - with tons of good coaching and training thrown in.
“Hard work is definitely the common denominator,” said Dziama. “I was lucky to have had my family members to follow and look up to, which made working hard easier because I saw how much success they had. Working out at EPS in Foxboro during the summers with a bunch of great athletes and getting coached by Coach Batty [now head-man at Babson] and Coach Jennings growing up helped my game a lot, also, and helped me eventually get recruited.”
As for Matt’s biggest role model, its no surprise that the man who began the Dziama family tradition of NCAA excellence nearly four decades ago in Chestnut Hill is the person that the due-to-be senior looks up to the most.
“I’ve had a ton of role models throughout this entire experience,” said Dziama. “My family, my coaches, my teammates … But my dad has been the biggest of all. He has taught me everything I know and he’s my biggest fan and also my hardest critic. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, that’s for sure.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0.