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By Vincent Briedis

Standing on the grass surface of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on a sunny Memorial Day afternoon in 2006, Virginia senior attackman Matt Ward hoisted the NCAA trophy, the second of his illustrious four-year career in Charlottesville. After leading UVA to a historic 17-0 record and the Cavaliers’ fourth NCAA Championship, it was truly his moment.

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Ward was fantastic in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, breaking lacrosse legend Gary Gait’s (Syracuse) 16-year NCAA Tournament record for goals in a single tournament with 16 en route to being named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. His 22 overall points in the 2006 NCAA Tournament is still a single-tournament record at UVA.  Earning first-team All-America status, Ward was also honored with lacrosse’s prestigious Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s best player for the 2006 season.

Flash forward to 2017, Ward is sitting in his office in downtown Chicago at Northwestern Mutual, reflecting fondly on his four years on Grounds and the path that brought him to the high rises of the “Windy City.”

“The University of Virginia is everything I was looking for in a college,” Ward said. “It was everything from an experience perspective that I could have asked for. I was an 18-year old kid when I stepped on Grounds and a 22-year old man when I last walked off the field in Philadelphia, because nothing was ever given to me on the lacrosse field or in the classroom.”

When Ward left Charlottesville, he ranked No. 3 all-time in the UVA history with 139 career goals and was drafted in the first round, fourth overall, of the 2006 Major League Lacrosse Draft by the Baltimore Bayhawks (now the Chesapeake Bayhawks).

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The transition from college to the MLL in 2006 was smooth for Ward, as he was named the 2006 MLL Rookie of the Year after finishing the season as the Bayhawks No. 2 point- and goal-scorer with 33 points and 23 goals, respectively. Ward spent three seasons (2006-08) in the MLL with the Bayhawks, appearing in 32 career games and scoring 66 goals and 95 points in his professional career.

Upon graduation, while playing in the MLL, Ward moved to New York City in 2007 and worked with the Walt Disney Company until 2013, where he was a syndication sales account executive. After working for the Walt Disney Company for nearly six years, Ward found a window to get into financial planning and jumped at it. Since 2013, Ward has run his own financial planning practice with Northwestern Mutual in Chicago, one of the city’s leading Chicago-based financial planning firms.

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“I was really drawn to financial planning by the opportunity to be a more entrepreneurial business owner,” said Ward. “I am tied to the success of my company and organization. Everything I do is based on how hard I work and if I bring my “A” game every day. I can’t go home and look in the mirror and blame anyone other than myself if I wasn’t productive. That was the biggest draw to me because that is what I enjoyed most about lacrosse.

“My athletic career went from putting in the work to the results you were looking for. I was looking for that and searching for that career wise. This company, Northwestern Mutual, provided the infrastructure for me to do that. It’s the closest thing to an athletic competition in the work force than anyone could ever compare.”

Financial planning is not the only hat that Ward wears. Since 2007, you can also find him in the television broadcast booth as a lacrosse color analyst for ESPN. Any given week Ward is calling games for ESPN across the country like UVA’s Klöckner Stadium, Syracuse’s Carrier Dome and Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field.

“To me, calling games for ESPN is the best way I can give back based on how much lacrosse has given me,” said Ward. “To be able to do it once a week and give my input where the game is at and where the game is going has been great. It is also a great thing for me career wise because the majority of my clients are former Division I lacrosse players, and to be able to stay in the forefront that has meant so much to me personally, but also career wise is something that I can’t take for granted. Every spring I love the opportunity to get out there and see the best players in the world play and see amazing products on the field.”

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When not in the office or at a lacrosse stadium, Ward is enjoying fatherhood. He and his wife, Caitlin, welcomed their son Ryder in the past six months and the trio resides quietly in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette. But the University, and its impact on him, never strays far from Ward’s mind.

“I still look back on my junior year in the business school and playing a full-time Division I sport as one of the hardest, challenging, but rewarding years of my life,” said Ward. “We didn’t win the national championship in lacrosse in 2005, but we made significant improvements from the year prior. From an academic standpoint, it put me in a position to not only work individually, but also in a team atmosphere for the first time academically, which translates significantly to someone’s ability to be impactful in the business world.”