Monmouth Transfer Allows UVA to Play Make It-Take It


Justin Schwenk's 63.5-percent work on faceoffs has helped fuel Virginia's potent offense during the Cavaliers' 3-0 start.

Lars Tiffany is only in his second season as Virginia’s coach, but he’s already reached some familiar terrain.

The Cavaliers won their first three games last year, only to slide to an 8-7 finish and miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. They’ve followed the opening part of the script this month, once again edging Loyola by a goal before collecting victories over Drexel and High Point over the last week.

Tiffany might have a sense of déjà vu, but he also sees enough improvement to suggest this is where a break will occur.

“We’ve been 3-0 before,” said Tiffany, whose team hosts Princeton on Saturday. “In 2017, the season did not end the way we envisioned it or desired it to. We’re sort of saying there’s so much more growth for this program to make this year. Having said that, we do see a difference. Our communication and cohesiveness at the defensive end of the field has made strides.”

There’s also something to be said for familiarity. Tiffany acknowledged taking an analytical approach to his first year in Charlottesville, spending a lot of time assessing how the university and athletic department operated. It was a tactic he borrowed from predecessor Dom Starsia, who did the same thing when he arrived at Virginia more than a quarter-century ago.

While Tiffany understands his environment better, he and his players also have a better sense of each other.

“I admit I really enjoy change,” Tiffany said. “I enjoyed year one, and I miss the men I was only able to coach for one season. But there’s certainly an advantage of what’s going on with the bonding and forging stronger relationships and growing more comfortable with Virginia.”

Three players — Dox Aitken (eight goals, two assists), Michael Kraus (six goals, five assists) and Ian Laviano (nine goals, one assist) —  already have 10 points. But the number that really stands out is Monmouth transfer Justin Schwenk’s 63.5-percent work on faceoffs.

Virginia is at 61.4 percent as a team, up from 52.7 percent last year. While Tiffany’s Brown teams drew attention for their gaudy goal totals, faceoff dominance was one of the major underpinnings of the Bears’ success.

“To score three goals in 30 seconds against Loyola can’t happen if we don’t have the potential of make it-take it,” Tiffany said. “The style we desire to play here at Virginia, a fast and frenetic pace, simply demands winning faceoffs so we can score in bunches.”

Schwenk’s ability to fuel such spurts was most evident in the Cavaliers’ 18-12 shootout win at High Point on Tuesday. The Panthers led 6-4 after the first quarter and the game was tied at 9 at halftime. After Virginia pulled ahead by four in the fourth quarter, High Point had a chance to go on its own run when Aitken was slapped with a one-minute, non-releasable penalty for an illegal body check. The Panthers promptly scored, but then Schwenk won the next two faceoffs, assisting Kraus and scoring on his own for two man-down goals in 23 seconds to put the game away.

The Cavaliers have won just one ACC regular season game in the last five years and haven’t escaped the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2012. Still, another strong start coupled with the Loyola victory already growing in value could be the start of a postseason push at Virginia — another familiar phenomenon for the Cavaliers, the last few years notwithstanding.

Not that Tiffany’s taking anything for granted.

“If anyone asks, just tell them we’re overrated,” Tiffany joked. “Way, way overrated.”

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