In 2006, Virginia men’s lacrosse did what had only been done three times since 1992: win a national championship with a perfect record.
The 2006 Cavaliers defeated Massachusetts, 15-7, in the national championship to complete a 17-0 season with the ultimate prize. It was the first and only time a team has done so in 17 games and only the 12th time in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse history a champion finished unblemished (including 1990 Syracuse, which later had its title stripped by the NCAA).
No team has done the same since, and it’s unknown when the next unbeaten season will come. Now 15 years after 2006 Virginia cemented itself as one of the sport’s legendary teams, let’s look back on how it happened.
2006 Virginia Men’s Lacrosse
Virginia was coming off a Final Four run in 2005 that ended in an overtime loss to Johns Hopkins, 9-8, before the Blue Jays would go on to become the 11th team to ever finish a season with an undefeated record and national title. Plenty of talent returned to Charlottesville for the 2006 campaign, and with names like Matt Ward, Kyle Dixon, Matt Poskey, Ben Rubeor and Mike Culver on the roster, expectations were high for what the team could accomplish. Lacrosse Magazine anointing the Cavaliers with the No. 3 position in its poll in the preseason.
The Cavaliers met those expectations and then some.
Through the non-conference portion of its schedule, the team went 10-0, including wins over Syracuse, Denver, and Johns Hopkins at home and Towson and Princeton on the road. More impressive still, only Princeton came close to the Cavs in those nine games, falling by only one goal, 7-6, in its matchup with the eventual national champions.
Virginia opened its conference slate with a date at Maryland. The Cavs whooped the Terps, 15-5, behind a four-goal performance from Rubeor and three-point days via Ward and Danny Glading to boot.
The story was similar against North Carolina, which ended in a 21-13 Virginia victory. The Cavs jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the first quarter that would not be overcome, later extending that advantage in the fourth quarter. Garrett Billings exploded for five goals and two assists, and Poskey and Ward each added in three goals of their own, too.
Virginia met Maryland again in the ACC Championship almost a month after the two teams met in College Park. This time, in Baltimore, the Terps came closer to their southern counterparts, but it wasn’t enough. The Cavaliers completed a perfect regular season with an 11-5 triumph behind two-goal efforts from five different players.
The Cavs did not play Duke because the Blue Devils had their season suspended.
The Cavaliers were awarded the No. 1 seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament with a 13-0 record, with wins throughout the course of the regular season over tournament participants No. 2 seed Maryland twice, No. 4 seed Johns Hopkins, No. 5 seed Syracuse, No. 7 seed Princeton and Denver.
In the first round, unseeded Notre Dame stood in Virginia’s way. The Irish did better than most, coming within four to before losing, 14-10, but they couldn’t keep Ward from splashing the net four times and allowing Glading to post five points.
Next in the quarterfinals, No. 8 seed Georgetown presented a challenge that Virginia managed comfortably. The Cavaliers toppled the Hoyas, 20-8, with an explosion in the third quarter that went in Virginia’s favor, 9-2, proving decisive. Ward had eight points on three goals and five assists, Rubeor put up seven points with five goals and two assists, and Poskey potted four goals of his own in the beating to secure Virginia its second-straight Final Four appearance.
A rematch with No. 5 seed Syracuse was set for the semifinals in Philadelphia. Things didn’t get any better for the Orange the second time around, with Virginia beating them by an even larger margin in the second meeting, 17-10. Ward scored four goals, Billings had three, and seven other Cavs got on the scoreboard as they cruised to the national championship game for the eighth time in program history.
In the ultimate game, Virginia faced unseeded Massachusetts, which aimed to complete a Cinderella run that included upsets over No. 6 seed Cornell, No. 3 seed Hofstra, and No. 2 seed Maryland. It was the first-ever appearance in the national championship for UMass.
Immediately, Virginia leap out to a 4-1 advantage in the first quarter. The Minutemen returned fire in the second, winning the period, 3-1, and bringing themselves to within one at the break. But the Cavs overwhelmed UMass after halftime, outscoring their opponents 10-3 in the second half to secure a 15-7 victory. Ward and Poskey had five goals each, while Rubeor, Glading, Dixon and Drew Thompson all contributed at least three points, respectively.
The title was the fourth in Virginia men’s lacrosse history, adding 2006 to the list along with 1972, 1999, and 2003. Three of 2006 Virginia lacrosse’s players (Ward, Dixon, and Culver) were named First Team All-Americans, three more were award Second Team All-American honors (Rubeor, Poskay, and Thompson), and another two made the third team (Richard Smith and Kip Turner). If that wasn’t enough, Ward won the Tewaarton Trophy, too.
“That was a really special group,” Virginia head coach Dom Starsia told Whitelaw Reid of The Daily Progress in 2016. “I don’t think I had ever had a team that had thought about being undefeated before the season started.”
2006 Virginia lacrosse had an average margin of victory of 8.2 through its 17 games that season, a sign of how truly dominant this team was over its competition. At the time, Ward explained where the team’s fire came from.
“We’re a product of our past,” Ward told Dana O’Neil of ESPN in 2006. “From the 2004 season and the loss to Hopkins last year, all of it. Last year after that loss to Hopkins, we knew how close we were, but we lost. So we knew we had to work harder.”
No team since has accomplished what the Cavaliers did in 2006. The national landscape of college lacrosse has changed since then, with the sport’s growth adding higher competitiveness with more programs investing in the game and the talent pool getting deeper. Perhaps the conditions no longer exist for a 2006 Virginia lacrosse equivalent to happen again. That can’t take away from the utter ruthlessness in which this team dismantled nearly every opponent it came across, earning this squad a legendary status in the sport’s history.