Virginia rolls to NCAA lacrosse title
Colin Briggs wasn't sure if he would get a chance to play in the national championship game.
The Virginia midfielder stood on the sidelines Saturday watching his Cavaliers beat Denver in the semifinals. Coach Dom Starsia had suspended him prior to the Final Four for committing a team-infraction and was noncommittal when asked Saturday evening if the senior would be in uniform Monday. Starsia decided to reinstate Briggs, and it proved a wise move.
Briggs scored a career-high five goals as seventh-seeded Virginia edged Maryland, 9-7, in a slow, methodical affair to capture its fifth Division I national championship. Briggs scored three times on uncontested shots and twice beat defenders 1-on-1, earning the most outstanding player award.
"I definitely disappointed myself and let down the team on Saturday. I wanted to come back today and give everything I had," Briggs said. "I got some open looks and was able to finish some shots."
Game time temperature was 96 degrees and it was even hotter at field level on a sun-scorched afternoon. Briggs appeared a step faster than everyone else and agreed that sitting out Saturday gave him an edge over those that were playing for the second time in three days.
"I definitely felt fresh out there, especially in the fourth quarter. I still had legs while maybe some other guys didn't," he said.
Matt White scored three goals for Virginia (13-5), which has captured four of its NCAA titles under Starsia, the Division I all-time leader with 329 career victories.
This one was particularly satisfying for Starsia since the Cavaliers had to overcome the suspensions of All-American midfielders and twin brothers Shamel and Rhamel Bratton and a season-ending injury to top defenseman Matt Lovejoy. Top attackman Steele Stanwick was hobbled for much of the season with an injury while the Briggs suspension was the latest setback in what Starsia termed "the most peculiar season I've ever been involved with."
After losing four of five games from March 26 to April 22, Virginia reinvented itself both offensively and defensively. Starsia switched to a zone defense while the normally run-and-gun Cavaliers installed a more controlled offense. Those changes paid dividends as Virginia closed the season with five straight wins.
"This moment is particularly gratifying when you consider all that we endured to put ourselves in this position," Starsia said. "We had to reconfigure ourselves midseason and the players had to pick themselves off the ground. We were willing to change our personality on both ends of the field and we got better at the end of the year as a result."
Nick O'Reilly contributed a goal and four assists for the Cavaliers, who responded with three straight goals after the Terrapins tied the score at six with 11:43 remaining. Adam Ghitelman made nine saves as the Cavaliers secured their third crown since 2003.
Grant Catalino had two goals and an assist for unseeded Maryland (13-6), which fell despite outshooting Virginia, 32-26 and winning 12 of 19 faceoffs. Midfielder John Haus had a goal and two assists for the Terps, who committed numerous unforced errors on the offensive end and finished with 13 turnovers in the slow-paced game.
"Our game-plan was to attack inside with the two-man crease. I think we got a lot of good looks early, but Adam made some saves, we hit a few pipes and missed some shots," Catalino said. "I think we prepared hard and executed our game-plan. It just seemed like the ball didn't roll our way today."
Goalie Niko Amato made eight saves for Maryland, which lost in the finals for the sixth time since capturing its last national championship in 1975. The Terrapins had their own challenges to overcome, beginning with a head coaching change in the offseason. Numerous starters missed games with injuries while attackman Ryan Young's mother died of pancreatic cancer on April 17.
"I'm very disappointed for the 48 guys in our locker room. I couldn't be more proud of this group, both as players and as people because of the way they handled the last 12 months," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "It's been a long year with all the things we had to deal with. The coaching transition, all the injuries, Maria Young's death through it all we played like Terps and represented our school, our state and our alumni with class."
Briggs scored three of his goals during a 4-0 run that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead for Virginia. Catalino had a goal and an assist as Maryland answered with a 3-0 run to tie the score for the fourth time at 6-6 with 11:43 left in the fourth quarter.