The Virginia men’s lacrosse team opens its 2020 season against a familiar foe.
For the seventh consecutive season, Virginia begins its year with a match against Loyola (Maryland).
The season-opening tradition began in 2014 after Loyola head coach Charley Toomey and Virginia head coach Dom Starsia agreed to square off to open the season. When UVa hired Lars Tiffany in June of 2016, Toomey’s immediate thought was about the Loyola-UVa rivalry.
“When Lars came in as the head coach, one of my first phone calls was to him,” Toomey said. “I said, ‘Listen, this has been a great rivalry. Hopefully you consider keeping it.’”
“I was glad that he did,” Toomey said. “I think it’s been great for both programs.”
It’s been great for both programs and great for the fans. The first meeting in the seven-year streak went to overtime, with UVa prevailing 14-13 on a game-winning goal from James Pannell.
That came after UVa squandered a 12-4 lead and needed a goal with less than a second left to send the match to overtime.
A bewildered and relieved Starsia told reporters after the game, “I can’t remember a game quite like this.”
UVa won 13-12 the next season in yet another thrilling showdown. The suspense died down in 2016, when the Greyhounds cruised to an 11-4 victory, but the drama returned in 2017 when UVa picked up a 16-15 win in Tiffany’s first season leading the Cavaliers.
Tiffany improved to 2-0 against Loyola in 2018 with a 13-12 overtime win, but the Greyhounds beat the Cavaliers 14-12 three months later in the NCAA Tournament. That game was not nearly as close as the scoreboard indicated.
Loyola led 13-6 before Virginia added late goals to make the score look less lopsided.
It’s been a back-and-forth matchup for the past few seasons, with both teams picking up victories.
Last season, UVa ended the year hoisting the national championship trophy. A few months prior, the Cavaliers were destroyed by the Greyhounds, losing 17-9 to open the season.
“They put it to us,” Tiffany said. “They dropped the hammer on us.”
An eight-goal defeat prompted Tiffany to write an apology to the alumni base, blaming himself for the poor performance.
Losing to Loyola forced Virginia to look itself in the mirror last season. While Tiffany wouldn’t credit that loss for sparking a national title run — the Cavaliers went 1-2 to start the season before reeling off three consecutive overtime wins — but the loss to the Greyhounds quickly revealed many of the team’s flaws.
“I just know that this Loyola team has played us really tough the last two times we’ve played, and it hasn’t even been close,” Tiffany said.
That’s one of the reasons both coaches like the traditional opener. Virginia enters this season ranked No. 2 by Inside Lacrosse, and Loyola checks in at No. 14. Neither team can ease into the season with such a talented opponent scheduled for game No. 1.
“One thing that I certainly know in my locker room is when you open with Virginia, there’s gonna be a sense of urgency from the first day of practice on,” Toomey said.
After months of preparation, the 2020 season is here. For Loyola and Virginia, the first opponent is one they know well. Virginia hopes it can finish on the winning side of this year’s bout.
“The last two times we’ve played Loyola in my career, they’ve kind of embarrassed us,” Virginia captain John Fox said. “We’re hungry for that game.”