David Schamis

Looking to capture its second consecutive national championship, the fifth-ranked Yale men’s lacrosse team fell behind early to No. 3 Virginia in the NCAA tournament final and never found its offensive footing, ultimately falling short 13–9 to finish as the national runner-up.


The Elis (15–4, 5–1 Ivy) earned a comfortable victory against No. 1 Penn State in Saturday’s semifinal with a 21-goal performance to play on Memorial Day. But the Cavaliers (17–3, 3–1 ACC), who clawed their way into the final after prevailing in two extra periods earlier in the weekend, imposed their physicality on Yale from the get-go. Despite faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20 delivering 18 wins in 24 tries at the X, Virginia forced the Elis to slow down their play and limited Yale to its lowest offensive output of the season. The Cavaliers applied end-to-end pressure with physical shoves and hits all afternoon, forcing sloppy play on both sides of the ball by Yale. Although the Bulldogs appeared to be on the precipice of high-octane scoring runs at several stages of the game, Virginia largely shut down the Eli attack behind stellar goalkeeping and relentless defense. Just a year after it earned the program’s first-ever NCAA crown, Yale returned home empty-handed in the four-goal loss in Philadelphia.


“[Virginia] held the ball for every shot clock,” head coach Andy Shay said. “That was very frustrating. We like to run, and we like to play fast. They got a few saves on us, a few failed clears, and they’re possessing the ball as long as they were. It got very frustrating and it wore on us.”


Despite scoring the first goal of the game, the Bulldogs got off to a rocky start as Virginia dictated its physical style of play from the jump. Heading into the final, the Bulldogs boasted the nation’s second-best offense, trailing only Penn State in goals per game. But the Cavaliers, who narrowly escaped with a 13–12 double-overtime win in the semifinals against No. 2 Duke, slowed Yale’s normally fast and aggressive offense and never trailed after overcoming their early 1–0 deficit.


Sensational netminding by Virginia goalie Alex Rode — who finished the day with 13 saves — and a hard-hitting, man-to-man defensive scheme put the pressure on Yale’s usually deep lineup of scoring threats. After UVA tied the game and then scored again to head into the second period up 2–1, Yale found itself in a vastly different position than the Elis’ dominant 10–1 advantage after their first period on Saturday against the Nittany Lions.


“[Rode] made some big saves early when we made some mistakes,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said. “We had better legs, we were fresher today, so we could be the aggressor on the defensive midfield … we played smart in terms of possessing the ball.”


In the second quarter, Yale continued to struggle to find its offensive footing. Although goalie Jack Starr ’21 settled into the match, putting out several clutch saves and making five stops on the period, the Elis could not break through and find a scoring run. Their lone second-quarter goal came from attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 after a scuffle behind the Yale cage for a loose ball saw Gaudet effectively wide open and unguarded by the post.


The Elis seemed poised to turn the game around coming out of halftime. Yale looked rejuvenated after winning the first faceoff of the half and translated that possession into a swinging score from captain and midfielder John Daniggelis ’19, followed by another one just eight seconds after from Gaudet — straight from Ierlan’s win at the X — to narrow Virginia’s advantage to 6–4. But the brief scoring run came to a halt as Virginia answered quickly with a pair of its own goals before stuffing three more in over the course of the period to pull ahead by sevens goals. The Elis appeared increasingly frustrated as Virginia kept up its constant physicality in the third and fourth periods, often leading to Yale turnovers in the midfield throughout the game.


The Bulldogs ended their second scoring drought of the afternoon as the clock ran out on the third quarter. Attacker Matt Brandau ’22 spun off a defender to stuff one in the cage to make it 11–5 just before time expired in the period.


Although the defending national champions never managed to mount a full-throated comeback, Yale whittled away at the Virginia lead in the final 15 minutes. Brandau, who broke Yale’s rookie single-game and campaign records in scoring, proved his worth among the nation’s top players in another stellar performance for the Elis. He slotted in a top-cheddar score as Brandau tumbled to the ground early in the fourth quarter to give Yale a shot at coming back, and found the back of the net once again with four minutes remaining to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 12–8.


As the Virginia pressure continued and the Elis remained unable to string together anything more than a goal or two at a time, UVA rode out its suffocating defense to deny Yale a second consecutive national championship, 13–9.


“We were just a little stagnant at the beginning,” Brandau said. “Towards the end of the game, just tried to play out a little more aggressive and spun the ball a little bit faster.”


Yale was largely plagued by 20 turnovers — many of them the result of messy passes or heavy checks under Virginia pressure. The Bulldogs also struggled in clearing the ball as they racked up eight failed clears over the course of the game. Additionally, the Cavaliers’ pressure often led to ground ball situations. While the Elis walked away with just under half of them (46 to Virginia’s 48), the lost opportunities translated to an inability to put together a performance under their own game plan.


The victory gave the Cavaliers their sixth national title in program history and their first since 2011. Yale scored 67 goals through its tournament run, breaking the record for most goals in a tournament. The previous record-holder was Virginia — 66 in 2006, also at Lincoln Financial Field.


31,528 attended the 2019 NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championship final in Philadelphia on Memorial Day.


Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu .

Cris Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu .