A year ago, Evan Zinn found his home. This spring, he has embraced his place on the lacrosse field.
Last season was Zinn’s first at Virginia after transferring from Johns Hopkins. After a debut campaign darting between offensive and defensive midfielder, he decided to concentrate on playing the short-stick defensive midfield position.
It’s resulted in a banner year.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “You get to push transition, and you get to be physical with people and throw checks. It’s extremely competitive, and I love it.”
Zinn has already set career highs in goals (nine), ground balls (23) and caused turnovers (six) and matched a personal best in assists (six), and he will experience the first Final Four of his career when the No. 2 seed Cavaliers (13-3) meet No. 3 seed Notre Dame (12-2) in an NCAA Tournament semifinal on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Noah Chizmar said Zinn has been pivotal to Virginia’s success.
“We don’t have too many D-mids on the team right now,” said Chizmar, a Bel Air resident and St. Paul’s graduate. “So him being able to step up and be a key starter for us has been invaluable to the entire defense.”
While growing up in Westport, Connecticut, Zinn played many sports, including football and baseball, and drew attention for his size. By the time he was a high school freshman, he was already 6 feet, 1 inch and 185 pounds.
Zinn was also blessed with speed, which he demonstrated in football during jet sweeps and long touchdown runs when he outraced would-be tacklers. During the 2022 preseason when the Cavaliers tested each player in the 40-yard dash, Zinn finished with the fastest time at 4.5 seconds.
Both attributes caught the eye of former Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala at a lacrosse camp in the summer of 2014. “For a kid that tall to run that effortlessly, he was a quick attraction,” he recalled.
That fall, Zinn chose the Blue Jays over Brown, Penn and Virginia because of the university’s academic reputation and Pietramala’s image as “a father figure,” according to Zinn. Originally recruited as an offensive midfielder, Zinn as a freshman was approached by Pietramala to take some reps at short-stick defensive midfielder.
“I think going into college, everyone wants to be an offensive midfielder,” he said. “But I knew that Coach Pietramala had my best interest in mind, and I just wanted to play.”
In his first season, Zinn amassed five goals, four assists, 20 ground balls and three caused turnovers. As a sophomore in 2020, he started six games as an offensive midfielder and had six goals and three assists before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of the season.
As a junior in 2021 without Pietramala — who had been replaced by Peter Milliman — Zinn rotated between offense and defense, compiling one goal, one assist, 12 ground balls and three caused turnovers. Needing just one more course to graduate with a bachelor’s in economics (which he accomplished that fall), Zinn entered the transfer portal with two years of eligibility and selected the Cavaliers over Notre Dame.
At Virginia, the 2022 season mirrored Zinn’s freshman campaign with the senior rotating between offense and defense and collecting seven goals, six assists, seven ground balls and two caused turnovers. But earlier this year, Zinn talked to coach Lars Tiffany about focusing on the short-stick defensive midfield role.
“I spoke to Coach Tiffany and said, ‘Look, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win a national championship. I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’” he said. “And we had a hole at short-stick D-middie, and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Zinn credited Tiffany with helping him learn the defense’s intricate schemes and volunteer assistant coach Logan Greco with breaking down film with him. That dedication has been welcomed by his teammates.
“You can see the difference between this year and last year and just how he’s done in this position and really doing whatever the team needed,” Chizmar said. “I don’t know what the team would have done without him.”
From afar, Pietramala has noticed a change in his former player’s performance.
“I think the reason why you see Evan kind of blossom this year and have the success that he’s had is that he looks far more comfortable in his skin defensively,” he said. “I think he understands his role as an older guy now, and I think he’s come to understand how he can impact the game from that position.”
A starter on defense with fellow short-stick defensive midfielder and graduate student Grayson Sallade, Zinn has made a number of highlight-worthy reels. There’s the time he scored a full-field goal against Towson’s 10-man ride in the final minutes of a 19-12 win on March 11. There’s the time he shed Maryland freshman attackman Braden Erksa’s ride attempt in the second quarter of a 14-13 overtime loss on March 18. And there’s the time he went coast-to-coast to score a goal in a 15-14 setback at Duke on April 15.
But Zinn said his top priority is winning games.
“I think I just want to help the team, anything that can put our team in a better position to win, playing fast, and — as Coach Tiffany says — swing first,” he said. “If I get the opportunity that fits that mold, that’s what gets me really pumped up.”
Having already earned his master’s from Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, Zinn plans to move to New York City to work in finance and play with the Chaos of the Premier Lacrosse League. Oh, and there’s the little matter of helping the Cavaliers capture their third NCAA title in five years and eighth overall.
“We’ve had this goal in mind since the first day we set foot on campus in August, and it’s been instilled in everyone,” he said. “We want to win the national championship. That’s what UVA does, and we want to do it on Monday.”
Zinn has a supporter in Pietramala.
“You want to see the people you care about be successful,” he said. “I’d be thrilled for Evan to have a great game.”
NCAA Tournament semifinals
Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Notre Dame vs. Virginia, noon
Penn State vs. Duke, 2:30 p.m.