March 17, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Moments after the end of his first college game, a scintillating 16-15 win over Loyola in Baltimore, attackman Michael Kraus approached University of Virginia assistant coach Sean Kirwan.
"I told him, `That's the most fun I've ever had in a lacrosse game,' " recalled Kraus, who had two goals and three assists in UVA's Feb. 11 season-opener.
"The way we play, it's such a player-oriented system. [The coaches] don't harp on mistakes, as long as you're playing hard. As long as you're giving it your all, that's all they can ask for. So it's just a ton of fun, and you get an absurd number of touches compared to other teams that like to slow it down."
When head coach Lars Tiffany came to UVA from Brown last summer, he brought with him assistants Sean Kirwan and Kip Turner. Kirwan oversees the Wahoos' offense. Turner, who started in the cage on the unbeaten Virginia team that won the NCAA title in 2006, works with the goalkeepers and face-off specialists.
The new coaching staff installed a fast-paced offense, and the players have taken to it. Virginia is averaging 16.3 goals per game, the second-most of any Division I team, and Kraus has been among its brightest stars.
A 5-11, 195-pound freshman from New Canaan, Conn., Kraus is second on the team in scoring with 32 points, on 16 goals and 16 assists.
Only senior attackman Zed Williams, with 36, has more points for No. 13 Virginia (5-2 overall, 0-1 ACC), which hosts No. 3 Notre Dame (3-1, 0-0) on Saturday at Klöckner Stadium. ESPNU will televise the 6 p.m. game.
"We create a depth chart for the men, and it's updated once a month during the fall and once a week during the spring," Tiffany said. "At one point this fall Michael was the No. 1 attackman, even ahead of Zed, and he continues to prove [his worth].
"The proof is in the depth chart every week. Zed currently is No. 1, but Michael is No. 2. He's right there, so we saw it early on."
It might be a stretch to say Kraus was born to play lacrosse at UVA. But he grew up grew up rooting for the Cavaliers, and for good reason.
His father, Steve, was a two-time All-American in lacrosse at UVA, and Steve's brother Andy -- Michael's uncle -- was a three-time All-American there.
"They were always my favorite college sports team in everything, just because my dad would always be watching, and I would always be wearing Virginia stuff, especially lacrosse stuff," Michael recalled.
Over the past 40 years, Virginia has had only three head coaches in men's lacrosse: Jim Adams, for whom the Kraus brothers played; Dom Starsia, whose teams won four NCAA titles; and Tiffany, who succeeded Starsia in June.
"Being recruited by Dom and Marc, obviously I would have loved to have played for them for at least a year," Michael said, "just because they're legends as coaches and have turned out some of the best players and people that have come out of the game. But I think this opportunity with these new coaches and our system has played out pretty well so far."
His father agrees.
"Dom and Marc were great coaches," Steve said, "but I think Lars is doing a great job.What I respect as a parent is how transparent the coaching staff is, how energetic the coaching staff is, and how sincere they are.
"Obviously parents appreciate that, but I think kids love that too. And I think they love playing this style of lacrosse."
Steve Kraus lettered at UVA in 1978, '79, '80 and '81. Back before the term became part of the lacrosse vernacular, he was what is now called a FOGO: a specialist who faces off and then gets off the field.
"I thought he was the best in the country when he was playing at Virginia," said Charlottesville lacrosse guru Doug Tarring, himself a former Cavalier. "Steve was the perfect faceoff guy: he was strong, he was quick, and he just had the ability to get low and pick up groundballs."
Steve Kraus still the highest winning percentage on face-offs in UVA history (68.0). Second is Andy Kraus (62.9), whose freshman season was 1987.
"The difference was, Andy brought more offense than Steve did," said Tarring, who in 1972 played on the first UVA team to win an NCAA title.
In addition to facing off, Andy Kraus played in the midfield, and he finished his career with 107 points, on 75 goals and 32 assists. Back then, Virginia and Brown had an annual series, and the Bears' defensemen included a young man from LaFayette, N.Y., named Lars Tiffany.
"We knew all about Andy Kraus," Tiffany recalled. "Andy Kraus would be one of the top three or four names as we prepared for Virginia each year."
When he was younger, Michael played in the midfield and faced off, using the grip his father and his uncle had taught him. He eventually moved to attack and stopped taking draws.
Could he succeed as a face-off specialist now?
"I don't know," Michael said, smiling. "I think [techniques have] changed way too much now."
Like his uncle, Michael is left-handed, "but you don't really know," Steve said. "His righty is almost as good as his lefty."
Michael, the youngest of three brothers, one of whom played lacrosse at Michigan, did not specialize in a sport at any early age, as so many athletes do today.
He played soccer, football, hockey, baseball -- "every sport that you could," Michael said. "But I was definitely raised with lacrosse in our family, watching it all the time and being around it."
From their father, Michael said, he and his brothers learned to appreciate the hard work required "to succeed, because [Steve] knew what it took to succeed at a high level."
It became obvious early, Steve said, that his youngest son liked contact and had a strong competitive streak. Michael flourished at New Canaan High School, a perennial power in lacrosse, and UVA offered him a scholarship in the summer before his 10th-grade year.
But Cornell wanted him, too, and was pursuing him harder than Virginia, Michael said. Moreover, Starsia requested that Michael take a postgraduate year and thus postpone his enrollment at UVA until 2016.
"At first I was kind of leaning towards Cornell, because I felt like they were showing me a little more love, or whatever it was," Michael said.
Then came a conversation in the family kitchen.
"One of his brothers said, `Well, it's pretty simple, isn't it? Let's say, God forbid, you get hurt. Where would you rather be?' " Steve Kraus recalled.
Michael remembers that day well.
"My brother looked at me, and he was like, `I don't know what you're thinking. We've always been rooting for UVA. Even if it's an extra year, you have always wanted to go here. This has been your dream.' So that kind of swayed me, and I felt at home after I talked more to Dom and Marc."
And so he committed to UVA, after which his national reputation continued to steadily grow.
As a senior at New Canaan in 2015, Michael totaled a school-record 108 points, on 64 goals and 44 assists. As a postgraduate at Taft School in Connecticut, he scored 57 goals in 2016, a single-season record for that program, and he's made a seamless transition to the college game at UVA.
"I think what I like most about Michael, probably because of his later physical maturation, is the way he dodges," Tiffany said. "It reminds me of a boxer who's in a counter-punch mode.
"Michael kind of wants to get hit by the defenseman, kind of wants to get grazed, so then he hasn't been diverted too much. Michael wants to go straight to the goal."
Tiffany, who was then unsure about the talent level in his new program, remembers talking to former Denver coach Jamie Munro last year about a prospect Virginia might have been able to land for this season.
"Jamie said, `Lars, don't worry about that other name. You have Michael Kraus. You have a phenomenal left-handed attackman coming in.' "
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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