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By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It was the perfect ending for Wellesley native Matt Dziama and the Virginia Cavaliers on Monday afternoon in South Philadelphia, taking out the reigning champion Yale Bulldogs to claim their first national championship in men’s lacrosse since 2011.
A program that went more than three seasons without a conference win and finished last in the ACC from 2015-2017, it is now safe to say that Virginia lacrosse is back on the map after winning the ACC regular season title, ACC Tournament title, and now the national title.
On Saturday in the national semifinals against arch rival Duke, the Cavs found themselves down a pair with under a minute to play. Michael Kraus pulled Virginia to within one at 12-11 with 45.9 seconds to play. After winning the ensuing face-off, the Cardiac Cavs squared things at 12 with 14.4 seconds remaining thanks to a low-to-high rocket from Ian Laviano. After a scoreless final 14 seconds and overtime that featured an endless number of scoring opportunities for both sides and multiple hit posts, Laviano capped the comeback with a goal 51 seconds into double overtime off a quick-stick feed from Matt Moore, sending Virginia to Monday's title game. Dziama finished the day with three ground balls.
In the final against Yale on Memorial Day, the Cavaliers drafted up the perfect defensive game plan, much of which featured Dziama (two ground balls, one caused turnover) as Virginia’s top defensive midfielder. Virginia’s rides on Yale clears were downright chaotic as the Cavs forced 17 turnovers on the afternoon. Freshman Petey LaSalla (two goals) gave Yale’s all-world face-off man TD Ierlan a fight like few have all season long. Despite Ierlan still going 16-for-25 on the day, LaSalla made his wins count, scoring twice off of face-off victories.
After leading 6-2 at halftime, Virginia had their lead cut to 6-4 following back-to-back goals by John Daniggelis and Matt Gaudet 1:09 into the third quarter. The Cavs responded with a 5-0 run with goals coming from Ryan Conrad, Matt Moore (two), LaSalla, and Michael Kraus as Virginia took a commanding 11-4 lead with 6:43 remaining in the third. Yale fought back with a 4-2 run to make it 12-8 with 4:30 remaining in the contest, but that’s the closest the Bulldogs would get. Dominant defensive play by the Cavaliers down the stretch allowed UVA to run out the clock as Virginia claimed the 2019 national championship with a 13-9 win.
“It feels amazing,” said Dziama on going out on top. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed of since I was able to pick a lacrosse stick up. After going 7-8 my freshman year, things weren’t looking good. Our team battled through a lot of adversity and worked to change the culture at UVA. We had a lot of talent and a lot of belief and we accomplished what we had all worked so hard for. It feels absolutely amazing.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter @fLAno0