Stronger culture helps Cavaliers reach NCAA title game

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- While preparing for Monday’s NCAA title game against Yale, Lars Tiffany talked to an old friend and mentor Sunday morning – Dom Starsia.

On Sunday, Tiffany acknowledged Starsia’s role in getting Virginia back to the championship game in men's lacrosse -- both in recruiting the players on UVA’s roster, and the "profound influence" Starsia has had on Tiffany’s career.

"Dom has been fantastic to us this whole process," Tiffany told reporters on Sunday morning at Lincoln Financial Field. "I lived in Dom's house the first month when I got the job, despite the fact he had been let go from the position I sat in. That type of it man to have in my life as a mentor is so special and important to me."

Tiffany is in his third season since succeeding Starsia, as UVA’s coach.
He has Virginia back in the NCAA’s championship game for the first time since beating Maryland in the 2011 title game.

“To be able to just accomplish so much this year, after everything we’ve been through, this year as well as a couple years past, it’s just so rewarding," said UVA All-American midfielder Ryan Conrad, who scored a pair of first-quarter goals in Saturday's 13-12 overtime win against Duke in the NCAA semifinals.

“’Never rest’ is the mantra of this team," Tiffany said. "As you’ve seen, we never give up. And if there’s anything that other people can take away from this game, this team, and how we’ve played, never give up.”

One new tradition Tiffany has instituted at UVA is called “Cultural Thursdays." The team meets weekly to talk about books they’ve read or videos they’ve watched – and themes like supporting each other, or being a better teammate.

“I remember in one particular case in our second year together, Mikey Herring speaking up during one of those Cultural Thursdays. I had never heard Mikey Herring talk," Tiffany said. "To have them share their voices. For some men, no problem. For others, that’s really intimidating. And overcoming that fear, and making yourself uncomfortable by expressing yourself.”

“It’s really cool, because that’s where leadership, I think, is built," said UVA sophomore Ian Laviano. "Freshmen are talking, second-years are talking. All the way up to the fourth-years. And it’s just really special, the bond and the trust that we get from one another.”

Laviano scored the game-winner on Saturday against Duke. It was Virginia's sixth fourth-quarter rally to win this season, and it's fifth overtime victory of the year. The Wahoos also won ACC regular season and tournament titles, and advanced out of the first round of the the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Conrad says UVA’s stronger culture has been key to that success.

“We’ve always had great players. We’ve always had the talent to do special things," Conrad said. "But adding that trust and that culture and the ability to really just enjoy every second is really the reason why we’re so successful.”

But as Tiffany also pointed out on Sunday, culture doesn't always win you lacrosse games. On Monday, his team will face a Yale squad that is second in the country in scoring this spring, averaging 15.94 goals per game. The reigning NCAA champs have scored 26 times in the first quarter of their three games in this year's tournament -- including a record 10 goals in the first quarter of Saturday's 21-17 win against Penn State.

The Bulldogs also have TD Ierlan, who Tiffany says might be the best face-off man in the history of college lacrosse. Ierlan has won an NCAA-best 75.8 percent of his face-offs this season, and went 28-for-39 on Saturday against Penn State.

"Our job as coaches is to ensure that our men recognize it, how fast Yale is individually and how fast their tempo is," Tiffany said. "Fortunately we played Brown this year who still plays fast, so we've seen this. We played Robert Morris, who never let us you rest. But Yale obviously does it at a higher level."

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