In his career debut for the Virginia Cavaliers, true freshman and the #1 overall recruit in the 2023 class McCabe Millon scored an electric five goals on eight shots. That’s the most goals in a game by a Virginia freshman since his teammate Connor Shellenberger put up six in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2021.
“What a fantastic performance by a first year,” said UVA head coach Lars Tiffany after the 19-11 win. “McCabe recognized that he had a matchup he could win, and this is who we are at Virginia lacrosse. We try to take away the playing with fear. Go out and be loose and be yourself.”
Millon absolutely played like himself, and it wasn’t just the final stats that stuck out from Millon’s performance. How he did it stood out. Only one of his five goals was assisted, and it was from a Matt Nunes full-field pass which Millon then used to beat his man underneath.
He wasn’t merely benefitting off the flow of the offense or the talent and experience around him. Far from it. The lacrosse prodigy and son of two hall of famers was the one creating offense for the ‘Hoos.
With Connor Shellenberger demanding the top matchup against the Michigan Wolverines, Millon had a field day. Even after Michigan rotated the matchups, Millon still cooked everybody who tried to guard him, individually beating four different Wolverine poles in the win. While his raw athleticism and unquestionable talent were on full display, it was his tactical acumen, patience, and general lacrosse IQ that made all the difference in UVA’s season opener.
How Millon positioned the pick and the defender to his advantage
Take his first goal as a prime example. The big-little game has been a staple of the Virginia offense since Tiffany arrived on Grounds in 2017, and Millon is the next great UVA attackman to thrive in the two-man game.
With the burly Griffin Schutz coming to set a pick at goal-line-extended, Millon takes his time, shifting back and forth until both Schutz and his defender (Michigan fifth year senior Cathal Roberts) are where he wants them.
By shifting ever so slightly to his left, Millon brings Roberts with him just as Schutz positions himself at a perfect angle just barely tilted to the inside. With Millon’s explosion off Schutz’s shoulder, he gets all the space he needs with Roberts falling through Schutz and the help not arriving in time as Millon fires a blistering shot by turning his hips towards the goal while his momentum was carrying him up field.
Millon’s next tally was a near carbon copy of the first, just on the other side. Once again he waits until his teammate Whalen switches to his left side and until his defender takes one too many steps in the opposite direction. Whalen’s man — being an offensive midfielder who doesn’t know how to play the pick — gets lost in the sauce and Millon makes it look all too easy by sticking the ball through the five hole with his off-hand.
How Millon stopped and started his way to five goals
To nab a first half hat-trick, Millon and Schutz combined again in the second quarter. This time, though, it’s the freshman’s change of pace as he’s dodging that makes all the difference.
The set up here is the exact same as the first goal. But Schutz is a bit too far inside as Millon starts his dodge upfield. To compensate for that, Millon ever so slightly decelerates at the women’s lacrosse eight meter break line, making it look for a split second like he’s going to cross back lefty, and then bursts out of that hesitation. That slight change of speed and direction forces Rowan Clay to take a slight drop step, sending him straight into Schutz’s chest.
With separation from Clay, Millon recognizes that Michigan is playing drop coverage with the help defender. So instead of continuing to carry upfield, he stops in his tracks, plants, and rips the ball to the top right corner. Ho-hum.
For goal #4, Millon exploits Michigan’s over-aggressive ride. Following a dime of a pass from goalie Matt Nunes, he perfectly combined both his blinding speed and plus athleticism with the IQ that great players have.
As he carries towards the goal, seemingly testing the waters to see if he gets underneath, he hesitates. His left leg flares up for a second, indicating he may be backing off from his dodge. But that’s merely a hesitation which invited a check from Michigan’s Jack Whitney. That check and the poor angle which Whitney took was all Millon needed to re-accelerate, put Whitney on his back, slither underneath, and finish it off with an emphatic dive across the crease.
Putting it all together
Millon’s fifth goal proved to be a combination of all the traits which made his debut such a dominant one.
After backing his defender up to a point where Will Cory could set an advantageous screen, Millon explodes toward his teammate, getting a step on #16 Kees Van Wees even before the pick. He then recognizes that Michigan has switched the pick, so he slows down, slightly backs off, then bursts towards the middle of the field to get topside. In doing so, Millon absorbs the contact from the Michigan SSDM, breaking his stick and clearing space for another eight yard step down.
On film, he makes it look easy. Millon is as physically gifted and talented as they come, and his understanding of the nuances of the game and Virginia’s scheme in his college debut are already incredibly impressive. This was by no means a flash in the pan or beginner’s luck.
Moving forward, opponents are going to have to game plan to stop Millon. They’re going to have to have a far more extensive plan in place to account for how threatening he is in the two-man game. And he’ll have to adapt to that. But for an offense that has Shellenberger, Payton Cormier, Griffin Schutz, Jack Boyden, and more, forcing attention off those guys and onto a true freshman is a major win for Virginia.
This is only the beginning for Millon, and that’s the scariest part.