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May 25, 2019

Dox Aitken

Ryan Conrad

Ian Laviano

Lars Tiffany

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Virginia - 13, Duke - 12

THE MODERATOR: Now joined by the University of Virginia, head coach Lars Tiffany and student-athletes Ryan Conrad, Dox Aitken and Ian Laviano. We'll start it off with a statement from Coach, then questions for the student athletes and then for Coach.

LARS TIFFANY: Thank you. I sat in this room three years ago, and as an aside, I don't want to make this about me. This is about the men and the University of Virginia. I'll start it off with, I sat in this room three years ago, after losing a semifinal game in overtime. Two teams: Back then it was Brown and Maryland, this time it was Virginia, Duke, who are this close, and yet the range of emotions are this far apart; it's almost not fair.

What I said three years ago was, boy was that fun. This is the game at its best and obviously a showcase, this type of weekend. We had another fun one today. I'm just really, really fortunate and grateful to have men who have committed to something larger and bigger than themselves and to sacrifice for the team. Obviously I have talented men, guys who can make plays.

What was going on in the first half? Did we get caught up in the moment? I'm fortunate: Sean Kirwan has won a national championship, Kip Turner has won a national championship, Bo Lori, our volunteer assistant, has been in a national championship game, two years ago. So there was experience on the staff, but not on the team.

Maybe we saw that early. A lot of turnovers, unforced turnovers and tentativeness. And I was probably more animated at halftime than normal with this team about sort of emotional things, and this team responded. I said fellas this is our moment; we've earned this moment. We don't deserve this. We've earned this. Take the moment.

Obviously Coach Kirwan made a couple of adjustments, as he always does, but these guys executed, the men next to me, and obviously others, Matt Moore. I'm really, really fortunate to coach men who will buy in, do whatever is asked of them, and commit to being the best team player they can be. Thank you.

Q. Ian, what was the so tough about Duke's defense in the first half, and what was the adjustment that you guys had to make in the 10 goals in the second half, plus the one in double overtime? What was the biggest difference there?
IAN LAVIANO: Yeah. We opened up the inside a little bit. Instead of 10 yards, we brought our two guys up, and that opened up the dive and the inside looks, and that ultimately opened up the perimeter shots.

Q. Ian, in overtime does muscle memory take over on that play, or are you thinking at the time that, you know, this shot could send us to the national championship game?
IAN LAVIANO: I'm not thinking. That's something that me and Matt have connected on before. Incredible look by Matt, and I just had to do the easiest part and put it in the back of the net.

Q. Ian, can you take us to the goal that tied the game and won overtime?
IAN LAVIANO: Again, an incredible look by Matt Moore. He did the grit, and I just saw a shooting lane and I took it. But Matt Moore did an incredible job, eyes up, and to see the player he's become is incredible.

Q. Ryan, you get another game. You have one more game as a senior, last year here. The emotions of this game, the ups and downs, another come-from-behind overtime. What does it mean to you? I know you said this team is super close but knowing you have another chance to put on a Virginia jersey and play for a title?
RYAN CONRAD: It comes to everything that our team has put in, in the fall, in the spring. We've been through a ton of adversity throughout the entire year, and to see us battle and game after game come back from behind, I wish we could make it easier on ourselves and play well all four quarters, but the tenacity and the grit of this team is unparalleled, and I'm so happy I get another two days with this team.

Q. Being able to beat Duke in this situation after the history you guys have had with them, what does that mean to get that monkey off your back?
DOX AITKEN: Yeah, they've had our number since we've all been here, and we knew that that was a "monkey on our back" for a while. But we really this week tried to separate the history from this game, because it was the biggest stage that we've been on, and we really just focused on ourselves this week. We didn't think about, you know, the 800-pound gorilla, or whatever it's called. We just stuck to our game plan. It means a lot to us, because they're obviously a great team.

They're very well coached, they game planned for us, very well, they locked us down to two goals in the first half. We made some adjustments and, yeah, feels pretty good.

RYAN CONRAD: Yeah, just to add to that, we've been focusing on ourselves pretty much ever game throughout this entire season, and that could not be more true than this game. We didn't play our game for the first three quarters, I don't think, and then in the fourth quarter we stuck to the system and that's -- frankly that's why we keep coming back in these games is because we rely on those standards and what we call "stoop" is just kind of our offensive stigmas and things that we follow.

We just relied on that, and the unselfishness of our team is why we're able to come back with these victories. Duke is a great team. They played a great game, and like Dox said, we just tried to focus on ourselves.

Q. After that goal, Dox, seemed like you ran over right to the fans and stuff like that. What was the emotion like in that moment for you?
DOX AITKEN: I was just overcome with emotions. They were great. They filled our entire section plus some, and they were with us the whole game, and when we were down and it looked like we might have been out, they kind of brought some life back into us. When Ian put it in, we all started running, and I just heard them, they were so loud, and I was just drawn to them and wanted to get 'em a little louder. I want more for the next game, and it's going to be awesome. That's what happened.

Q. Ryan, I feel like these are the same questions we asked you last week in Long Island, but Petey won the last eight face-offs in the game. Can you come back against a caliber of a team like Duke without what he did?
RYAN CONRAD: No. He has stood on his head the entire season, and he is a huge, huge part as to why we are able to come back in these games. This is actually the first time that we have played defense in overtime. Every other game he has won the face-off, and we've gone down and scored. And I think that's credit to our defense stepping up in OT. Petey has been huge the entire year, and this game is just another one of those days.

Q. Ryan, from a leadership standpoint, obviously this is all new, you're checking off things yourself, too, but the guys look up to you for you take, your leadership. What's your message trying to lead by example from a place you haven't been?
RYAN CONRAD: One game at a time, and just ride that emotion and rely on and trust the process basically of our team. We brought all of our stuff to this game from the hotel. So we had to earn going back to the hotel to sleep there for another night. We came here to win one game, and we did that and now we move on to the next one.

IAN LAVIANO: Just to go off that, Ryan's leadership is unreal. I can't be thankful enough for what he's done for me personally, but everyone. Dox, too, these guys are some of the people I can just lean on whatever I need something and they gave me that confidence on the field and just -- there is that sense that you just know when Ryan is on the field that all good things are going to happen. I would say that we earned one more game with Ryan, and I know he's going to give it his all.

Q. Dox, not only is this a special win but it's done in your backyard. What does that mean being in Philly and playing in the championship game here on Monday?
DOX AITKEN: It means a lot. I've been at this stadium probably over 20 times now, and all in the stands. I'm a huge Eagles fan, and I was fortunate enough to follow the Super Bowl 52 run. That was one of the greatest moments of my life, but I think that tops that for sure. Just to be in this stadium and just be 20 minutes from my house and have a lot of support from friends and family, it's a dream come true.

Q. Ryan, can you discuss how the team was able to stay together and grind your way back to force the game to overtime and win it?
RYAN CONRAD: It's something we have been doing throughout the entire year, relying on our process and trusting everybody and the coaches to put us in the right places, and obviously we have some individual efforts with Petey LaSalla, Jared Conners and some offensive guys putting it in the back of the net, but it really comes down to trusting the process and our coaches and our offense and defense.

Q. Ian, what kind of pride do you take in the riding game? Obviously it's something you care about.
IAN LAVIANO: It's almost one of my favorite parts of playing attack. Coach Tiffany, too, is really into it. It drives us. It's just not the players on the field, it comes from the guys on the bench. They scream, they get us going and they give us that energy, the 11th man out on that field.

Flying around with Matt and Mike, it's pretty fun, and when we do get a turnover, it's almost better than a goal.

DOX AITKEN: I think as a midfield, we have so much confidence in our attack, being able to ride the ball back. Ryan and I and the rest of the midfielders know if there is a save and we can cover up all the guys that are trying to clear around midfield and we can cover those gaps, we know that the pressure the attack is going to put on the close defense and the goalie is going to cause ride backs, so we take a lot of pride in it.

They do all the work; we take the easy part and try to be smart with who we are covering and how we're going out, and it's a huge part of how we get a lot of goals. It's definitely cool, and we got a comeback today, so that's definitely awesome, so we gotta keep that up.

LARS TIFFANY: It's a calculated risk. A lot of teams when they lose possession will have their offensive middies get out of the game as fast as possible or lock on somebody and get out of the game with that personnel. We ask the two men next to me, read it, can you stay in and make a play? You have to be in shape, fitness is key. But it does start with our frontline, that defensive front three or four, just the front three in attack, with Kraus and Laviano and Moore.

They gotta be heavy pressure on that quarterback, we gotta go in with defense, and from there the back wall can push up, our safeties can push up and almost dare them to throw the ball over the top of us. It's the analogy of blitzing the safety, in football. Duke dealt with it pretty well today. We only got the three fails on them, and that's a tribute to their preparation and their athleticism.

They're difficult. When you're playing the best defense, you put your long sticks out there. We're asking guys with short sticks, these three plus a couple others to stop somebody with a check. So you gotta be relentless and tenacious, and I'm really, really grateful to have the attack, and these offensive middies were committed to it. The teams I coach in our program, we're going to pursue to be the best team in the country in the ride, and we're going to pursue being the best ground ball team, so they go hand in hand.

Q. How closely do you guys follow the basketball team this season? Was there any sense of, hey, we want to do that too?
DOX AITKEN: I followed it decently closely. They were walking around school, and I was in the same class with Mamadi Diakite, who had the game-tying shot in the Elite Eight against Purdue, so that was definitely a cool ride for us just to follow along and get to know some of those guys. They have a system, they stick to it, and that's something we can take from, and it's really cool that we have an example that we can follow.

Q. Dox, you mentioned having played at Lincoln Financial 20 times in your career. Other than today's game, is there one that sticks out?
DOX AITKEN: This is my first time playing here. I've watched a ton of Eagles games here. If you're talking about watching my favorite Eagles game? (Laughter.) That's a good question. I was at the Texas game last year, which was a great game, a Nick Foles classic.

Q. Counter intuitive question for you. Are you comfortable down three goals or four goals?

Q. Just seems as if you guys stick to it so well that by this point maybe you're accustomed to --
LARS TIFFANY: You should be asking me, Coach, what are you doing the first three quarters? Obviously you have a team that can score in bunches, you can win face-offs in the game, what's wrong with you the first three quarters? That's what you should be asking.

I'm going to tell you, I told our guys, Memorial Day Monday, the fourth quarter is the first quarter, can we come out with that type of passion and energy? But there is something to, if you've never been in the moment before, can you block out the 30- 35,000 fans, and 35,000 empty seats staring at you, and it's hard. We felt that early against Hofstra, and we felt that early again today. How many balls did we sail over people's heads?

If there was a drink of experience, drink this, protein shake with experience, good, we're all there. Just having been here once, I'm no seasoned veteran, but having that experience helped me this week. Now we're just gonna, whether it's founded or not, tell them, all right, you've been here before, you've played a game here, now you're all veterans of this.

Q. You don't get a lot of questions about Alex Rode, but he had 19 saves today, two of them in the first overtime. How critical has he been to this whole postseason run and where you are right now?
LARS TIFFANY: To be honest with you, Alex didn't play his best lacrosse the first two playoff games. He had six saves against Robert Morse and maybe only six against Maryland, so we had competition this week. Actually Griffin Thompson snuck in there. We were talking a lot about Griffin Thompson this week, but at the end of the day, Rode earned it, and boy did he step up on the biggest stage. There was a couple of shots. The one that went in, the last one they scored, they had the ball for a long time. They were a man up, we got the ball down, and then when they scored that 15-yarder from outside.

It was like, oh! But Alex didn't lose focus, right? That's the personality you want from the goalie, I'm ready for the next one, despite giving up that one that felt -- could have been a back breaker against most teams but not the Virginia Cavalier team. We were down two goals with two minutes left. That's a lot of time.

Q. You emphasize ground balls, but after being out ground balled by Maryland, Duke was the team that got the advantage during the regular season match-up. Do you have to emphasize that extra? Is it a point of pride to come out and be more aggressive on the ground and create those extra possessions?
LARS TIFFANY: As a coach, a lot of our talk is tactical, making fine adjustments. Obviously Coach Kirwan does a great job of that. Coach Turner with the face-off and the wing play, which was a great battle today. I mean, Ryan Conrad did not dominate the face-off wings, says so much for the long poles. Duke double-poled most of the face-offs with Welch and Van Raaphorst tying up Ryan, so you make all the adjustments, but there is a bit of an emotional piece when it comes to ground balls.

Last month when we drove home from Durham with a loss I said fellas -- I asked my assistants, can you cut up the number of ground ball scraps there were, when there was more than three or four guys in there, and let's see how those ground balls came out, and it was 9-0 went to Duke.

And we harped on that this week. We harped on it the very next day with the team, and said we've got to bend our backs, and we've got to be willing to sit inside of a pile and take the hit, take the slash. We've got to pick up that ball.

So I think there was progress made there, and obviously Duke picked up ground balls, as well, but Ryan Conrad in the second overtime with three v. three a lot of bodies around, and I think we got our fair share there, so the message was clear and the men responded to that, but it is something we talked about. When we have been playing Duke lately, they have been out ground balling us.

Q. I think you heard Dox refer to the 800-found gorilla. How do you address that before the game?
LARS TIFFANY: We tried not to talk about it at all. Duke was the next obstacle, a formidable obstacle, but I think the answer Dox gave you was great. The history doesn't matter, and to block that out. This is a team that has really listened to the "coach speak"! I know it's "coach speak," one at a time, but I'm grateful that they were able to eliminate the fact that we have lost to Duke felt like 100 times in a row.

When we lost to Duke two years ago my first season here, I think we may have lost by 100, it might have been 12, but last year we lost to Duke by 5 at Klöckner, 18-13, and it was actually some positive things that came out of that. I don't think we were very negative. We saw that we made progress. This year when we lost to Duke down in Durham, there was disappointment. We knew we were better than the performance we put out there. I don't know if we knew we were better than Duke, but we knew we were a better team. We weren't going to settle for five-goal losses or moral victories.

So we wanted to block out who the opponent was because there is too much -- if you start diving into that, then there is probably too much weight on your shoulders emotionally.

Q. Coach, early on you were trying to feed the crease a lot and it was resulting in turnovers, but that also winds up being the play that was the game winner. Was there any point that you started saying you had to get your goals another way given that you only had two in the first half?

Q. What was the thinking about approaching the shot selection?
LARS TIFFANY: Sure, what we did is we told them we need to take some outside shots. When we dodge up a side, we need to put a shooter in front of the feeder, as opposed to just relying on throwing balls through the defense or over the defense. Now, it may not be the greatest look but we needed to put Dox and Conrad in positions to take those outside shots to make the Duke defense step out a bit, because they were packed in, and they were tying up the crease, and we were struggling, as you saw.

So just having Dox hit an outside shot or two, having Conrad hit some of those outside shots and continue to be willing to take those shots. The Duke goalie stepped up and made more saves, and that's fine, but we gotta get them out of that tight defense, and that's what you saw in the end of the game. It did open things up, and that's where Ian Laviano can be so dangerous.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

LARS TIFFANY: Thank you guys for the coverage.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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