Cavalier Corner

June 2019

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Page 21 of 31

22 CAVALIER CORNER Dom Starsia, Marc Van Arsdale, they did a fantastic job recruiting." Aitken and Kraus are included in that. Having each committed to Virginia well before the coaching change, that they stuck with their decisions and never wavered are big reasons why the Wahoos were able to jump back on the national stage with such authority. "With Dox and Kraus, their first year was essentially our first year," Tiffany ex- plained. "We were all first-years together. I remember sitting next to them in the Carrier Dome when we lost in 2017 off a late-game goal, and their comments to the press. I felt like I was sitting next to 10-year NFL veterans. "They were just unassuming, deferring to others, complimentary of their oppo- nent. The maturity that Dox and Michael have shown right from the get-go has been startling, and they have helped define what the program is going to be moving forward. "You can't find two men who are more aggressive and deadly on the field, and better gentlemen and more modest off the field. That's the character of the UVA student that this university promotes, and we're lucky to have it on our team." "It's been a phenomenal experience to have Coach Tiffany and his assistants come in and be a part of the cultural change, a whole revamping of our program," Kraus said before the national semifinals. "I think the biggest thing is just the mindset of the team. I think my first year, some of those games, those big games we were in, you could feel not that people were worried, but that the stage might have been high. "We've slowly gotten better and bet- ter, and our mindset is, 'We're here for a reason.' We're at Virginia, one of the best schools in the country. It's been very cool to experience that change." "I think he just instilled a work ethic in us," Aitken said of Tiffany. "Training with purpose. Everyone works hard, it's just a matter of how you spend your hours, how you manage your time and how to work smarter. That's something that he's instilled in all of us. "He's made us smarter players. … He's a great motivator, and we have no problem getting fired up to play for any one of our coaches. That's also another big part of it." Aitken and Kraus came in together and knew each other in high school, but they weren't best friends or anything when they arrived. The chemistry on the field came quickly, though, and has grown even better with time. "I think we're a pretty good one-two punch with him up top in the midfield po- sition and me coming from behind at X," Kraus said. "When they slide fast to me, he's wide open for a step down. Or vice versa, when he's going from up top, he can bang it to me, and they'll slide to him, throw it right to X and I can look inside. "I think he just offers a familiar face, and we know each other's games pretty well. It's just nice to be able to play with some- one you've played with for three years now and just to be comfortable with who you're playing with." "I think the biggest thing is just the chemistry," Aitken said of Kraus. "We're so used to having him back at X on the wing, dotting and initiating and making those reads. It's huge having him back there." It wasn't then nor is it now a surprise to Tiffany that the dynamic duo stuck with their commitments. In part that was about the program, but it was also about the in- stitution. "Fortunately, most people who commit to the University of Virginia are not go- ing to change their mind when a coaching change occurs," the coach said. "Now, the relationship you build with the coaches in the recruiting process is very important, but this is UVA. "It's a fantastic school. And what a place to live. Fortunately, they were like, 'Okay, we'll give this coach a chance.'" "When I committed, UVA was still a powerhouse and then it kind of took a dip throughout when I was a freshman through when I was a senior," Aitken said. "I did expect — I wouldn't call it a rebuild — but I would have expected to win a couple ACC games my freshman year, maybe make the playoffs. "Just being a part of the reloading pro- cess of Virginia lacrosse has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I wouldn't have it any other way. "Credit to Coach Starsia and what he built here. It's definitely a super high stan- dard for us, and that's what we model our program after." "No," Kraus said with a smile, when asked if he ever thought about looking around. "I knew as soon as I started play- ing, UVA's one of the best places in the country — and it's turned out to be just that. Never dropped any faith in it. "Sticking with the program is a testament to all of the guys that are here, and we knew that as soon as we could get here that things could change. And that's what we've done. "I think we tried to not get too rattled by it or overwhelmed by it and just continued with the path that we were on." UVA excelled at not getting rattled dur- ing the season, and made a habit of over- coming big deficits and finding ways to win. You can't do that if you can't score, and they boasted offensive weapons few teams could match. A lot of that was be- cause of the firepower supplied by Aitken and Kraus. At the same time, the two have become close and will live together in New York this summer when they each begin intern- ships. "Off the field, we're good friends, and on the field, I think we've built some good chemistry over the years staring with fresh- man year," Aitken said. "It's just been awe- some … it's great having Mike. He's the leader of our offense and also one of our best friends. "We're all cool off the field, so that's obviously a huge plus because chemistry is easier to have in games." While Aitken is working for Guy Car- penter and Co. doing risk analysis in the reinsurance industry, Kraus is planning to work in private equity. "Probably 10 more pounds," Tiffany said when asked what was ahead for the pair this summer, "and then we'll have to work that weight off. Sitting at those desks, getting those lunches catered in that they do on Wall Street. "I'll be reminding them with emails and text messages throughout the summer that they still have one more year of eligibility." "I don't know," Aitken said with a laugh when asked if he and Kraus will still be great friends by the time they return to Virginia. "Hopefully, I don't see too much of him." The pair that stuck with UVA through a program downturn and coaching change during the recruiting process came together in Charlottesville to lead the Cavaliers on a championship renaissance in their third year. With UVA back on top of the lacrosse world, next spring they'll have a title to defend. "When I committed, UVA was still a powerhouse and then it kind of took a dip. … Just being a part of the reloading pro- cess of Virginia lacrosse has been one of the greatest bless- ings of my life. I wouldn't have it any other way." AITKEN

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