BALTIMORE — Virginia’s path to a national championship was neither smooth nor orthodox nor stylistically representative of one of lacrosse’s most consistent programs.
It won’t stop the Cavaliers from savoring it for a long time.
Virginia completed its march to a fifth NCAA tournament crown Monday, outlasting Maryland 9-7 on a scorching 96 degree afternoon to collect its first title in five years.
Colin Briggs scored five goals as the seventh-seeded Cavaliers (13-5) finally arrived at a destination so many believed they would back in February - and a peak virtually no one thought it could reach just a month ago.
“To go out like this, it’s more than I can ask for,” defenseman Bray Malphrus said. “These past three weeks, I don’t want to sound cliche, but it’s been somewhat magical.”
Matt White scored three goals, and Nick O'Reilly added a goal and four assists before 35,661 at M&T Bank Stadium as Virginia became the lowest-seeded team to win a championship in the tournament’s 41-season history.
The Cavaliers also set a record for most losses by a champion.
The Cavaliers’ setbacks and seed, though, won’t be remembered nearly as long as the trophy taken back to Charlottesville on Monday night.
It was a championship borne of an extreme makeover on both ends of the field.
Virginia, long known as a bastion for aggressive, man-to-man defense, acknowledged at midseason that it could not hope to keep up with foes once defenseman Matt Lovejoy was lost with a shoulder injury in early April.
The adjustment to a zone defense came slowly, but eventually the Cavaliers adapted. And against Maryland, Virginia played almost exclusively zone in the final and held Maryland stars Joe Cummings and Ryan Young to a point apiece.
The offensive scheme was substantially retrofitted after midfielders Shamel Bratton (dismissal) and Rhamel Bratton (suspension) were removed in late April.
Attackman Steele Stanwick, already the ACC player of the year, became even more valuable in the postseason, with Chris Bocklet his primary target.
That pair combined for just a point against the Terps (13-5), and yet still the Cavaliers hauled home a championship.
“It’s been the most peculiar season I’ve ever been involved in,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “It may be that I would have said that I would have expected nothing less.”