Tradition, staunchly underpinned by the spirit and architecture set down 145 years ago by Thomas Jefferson and thickly padded with a peculiar Jeffersonian nomenclature, weighs heavily at the University of Virginia. Everyone from the president to the low man in the freshman class is addressed as mister, a reflection of the egalitarian tone Jefferson sought to infuse in the “academical village” he founded and designed. According to Jefferson and generations of Virginia students, the main quadrangle is not a quadrangle but the Lawn; the campus is the Grounds; living quarters are “ranges” and “pavilions.” Ironically, though Jefferson was possibly the most influential radical thinker in American history, the most pervasive of all the traditions that have flourished under the massive Corinthian columns and the lofty dome of the Rotunda, which Jefferson planned as Virginia‘s main building, has been the school’s essential conservatism.
A more recent trend at Virginia has been the school’s decline in athletics. After years of glory in sports as diverse as boxing and football the Cavaliers settled into a 20-year slump. The football team has played one winning season since 1952. The basketball team has had 16 straight losing seasons.
Last week a number of Virginia traditions were under attack. Construction crews worked on new buildings devoid of colonnades. The suddenly unconservative students were on strike in protest against the Cambodian invasion and the shooting at Kent State. The lacrosse team was headed for the school’s first national title since 1952. And, unlike the situation at most colleges where the activists and athletes are rarely the same people, at Virginia the new lacrosse champs were on strike against classes, too.
Since the first NCAA championship playoff in lacrosse will not occur until next year, the Cavaliers can only share the national title this season with Johns Hopkins and Army or Navy, each of whom has one loss. Virginia‘s record became 8-1 when the team beat Washington & Lee 19-3 and Hofstra 14-3 last week. The Cavaliers, who are very likely the best of this spring’s championship trio, can easily wait a year to prove it in a playoff, since the team, beginning with 25-year-old Coach Glenn Thiel, is young and will be around a while. Only four seniors and six juniors are on the 31-man squad, and the two top scorers are Attackmen Jay Connor, a 5’6″ sophomore with a sturdy build and quick stick, and Tommy Duquette, a freshman who already shows signs of developing into the best offensive player in college anywhere. Virginia‘s three best seniors, Defenseman Doug Hilbert and Midfielders Jim Potter and Charles Rullman, are All-America candidates and certainly will not go unmissed. Hilbert allowed his opponents only one goal in his final nine games, and Potter was the first lacrosse player ever selected as best athlete at Virginia. Rullman is so slippery that Maryland set up a special zone defense each time he handled the ball. The Cavaliers still won 9-3.
It was Duquette, however, who provided the surprising play Virginia needed to move up from its fourth-place ranking of a year ago. In the Cavaliers‘ first important win this spring—15-8 over powerful Hopkins—Duquette scored seven of his team-leading 24 goals, a startling showing for a player who was not considered good enough to make a Baltimore schoolboy All-Star team as an attackman last year. Thiel switched Duquette to behind attack this spring and quickly found out how useful his long, gliding strides could be. “Our first game was against Mount Washington, and they put Hank Kaestner on me. He was a three-time All-America at Hopkins,” says Duquette. “I was so afraid of him I just started running around behind the goal to stay away from him, and it worked. I used to just stand around, but I’ve found out that if the defenseman’s worried about keeping up with you, he can’t bother about taking the ball away.”
Duquette now rarely has an opportunity to stand still because of Thiel’s emphasis on physical conditioning. Coaches routinely say that lacrosse games are won by the team that picks up the most ground balls, a frustrating aspect of the game demanding more stamina than skills. In its big victories over Maryland and Hopkins, Thiel’s team fielded 42 more grounders than its opponents. The Cavaliers trailed in this category in only one game, their 11-7 loss to Navy. Virginia is also well coached in technique. It has won 61% of its face-offs, primarily because of Potter’s expertise at center midfield, and has been successful on an outstanding 80% of its clears.
Thiel, whose father coached him at Penn State and who spent the past two seasons coaching a junior college in Baltimore, did not bother to apply for the Virginia job when it became available last spring. “I hesitated until August,” he recalls. “I didn’t think they’d hire some 25-year-old for the job and besides I was teaching in a school where we had a lot of ghetto kids and I had a draft deferment. I was afraid if I came to Virginia I’d lose it.”
A coach who feels threatened by the draft is apt to look on war protesters somewhat differently from his older colleagues. When Thiel’s players asked before the Maryland game to wear red arm bands knotted on their uniform jersey sleeves as a sign of sympathy with the student strike, he permitted it on the basis of individual choice. Eighty percent of the Cavaliers wore them, and a wide majority of the team—along with most of Virginia‘s football players—signed petitions supporting the strike, which by last week had virtually closed down the undergraduate school.
“I was opposed to the arm bands at first,” says Potter. “I thought it would take guys’ minds off the game. But it got clear that so many of them felt so strongly about this that they had to have the right to show it.” The Maryland-Virginia game was played on the Cavaliers‘ home field, which is called The Parking Lot, not from tradition, but because of its hardness. The field was surrounded by police who were bivouacked in the adjacent basketball arena. As the red-arm-banded Cavaliers swept to their victory, it was obvious that several traditions, athletic and political, were in trouble at Virginia.