Men’s Lacrosse. That would be the safe bet. Three years ago, if you asked anyone around the University community which sport would give Virginia its twentieth NCAA title it would be men’s lacrosse. They were coming off possibly the most impressive college lacrosse season ever and with 2 titles in 4 years, they were posed to deliver again very soon. The Wahoos have had many great teams in Women’s rowing and field hockey, Men’s cross country and baseball, who all advanced deep in their respective NCAA tournaments, but mostly ending up in the top 10 without a title. But it was a resurgence from another storied program that brought UVa to this milestone today, and they did it in dramatic fashion.
One quick side note before we get into the game from today. This is Virginia’s 20th “official” NCAA title ever. We use the term “official” because the Wahoos had a very prominent boxing team in the 30s and 40s. A traditional juggernaut, Virginia Boxing was what Texas is to football or Kansas is to basketball today. Just imaging 5,000 fans crammed into Mem Gym every Friday night. The Virginia Boxing Team was only credited with 2 national championships, both after 1948, because team points were not used to calculate a team champion until then. There have been reports that UVa could have won as many as 6 more national titles as they went undefeated from 1932 to 1937, winning the Southern Conference Championship each of those years. But the sport was disbanded from UVa in 1955 and the NCAA stopped recognizing the sport in 1960.
Today’s game was a tale of two halves. The first half UVa played their game, getting scoring opportunities and relaying on their central midfielders and defensive men to stop the Akron attack. They pushed the play to the outside where they were able to push the ball up field with Hunter Jumper. The second half was a complete switch. Akron was pushing UVa into their own third and the Hoos tried to create offense though the middle, which lead to misplaced passes and shots.
About halfway through the second, things got chippy. The yellow cards came out as both teams started making cleat tackles and shoving players out of bounds. In all fairness to Akron, UVa started most of the “unpleasantness”. The Wahoos were targeting the quad injury of Anthony Ampaipitakwong with several hard tackles, resulting in a yellow on Hunter Jumper. After back and forth hard tackles on each team, an Akron defender shoved a UVa player into our own reserves, prompting a shouting and pushing match which resulted in a UVa reserve getting a yellow card. By this time, both teams were playing for overtime and not much else got accomplished.
Overtime showcased why these two teams were not only the best defensive teams of this year, but of all time. (Editor’s note: With the own goal on Friday night, Akron and UVa swapped the #1 and #2 positions, and ended up third and forth all time in GAA) Both teams gave their best shots, but by about 3 minutes into the second overtime, both knew that PKs were going to decide each other’s fate.
Before the tournament started we talked about how each team was going to win the College Cup. We said that inexperience and nerves could be the undoing of Akron. Well that showed up in the first 3 shots of the shootout, in which UVa jumped to a 3-1 advantage. Only needing another goal, the Hoos showed their own nerves as they gave the Akron goalie reads on the next two shots and Akron climbed back into the match at 3-2 with one shot to go. Blair Gavin was the shooter. Five-for-five all year. Won it for Akron over UNC in PKs not 36 hours before. You wouldn’t wish what happened on anyone, even a Hokie, let alone a senior trying to deliver Akron its first ever NCAA title in any sport. But it happened. As soon as the shot sailed over the bar, the celebration started. As well as the tears. And the rest is history.
Looking back, this was what we all wanted: the two best teams slugging it out on a cold, rainy day in North Carolina for the National Championship. Looking forward, both teams are poised to meet again in future tournaments.
Round 1 and number 20 went to UVa.