The Virginia Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team will open its 2024 season Saturday against the #8 Michigan Wolverines. But before they do, we’re taking a look at the revamped offense which will try to lead the team to the program’s eighth NCAA Championship and third in five years.
Fundamentally this is an offense with experience and elite talent at critical positions, but with a ton of newcomers and unproven players who are going to be key contributors. There is serious upside — evidenced by the ‘Hoos being ranked third in college lacrosse’s two major polls. But there are also plenty of question marks.
Also, for the first time in Tiffany’s reign in Charlottesville, there has been a coaching change after offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan left Virginia to be the head coach at Dartmouth and former Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese taking his place.
There’s plenty to iron out, so we’ve broken down a projected depth chart for the offense and analyzed three keys to success for the offense 2024.
Connor Shellenberger, Payton Cormier, McCabe Millon
For UVA lacrosse or college lacrosse fans, Shellenberger and Cormier need no introduction. Shellenberger is the most fundamental player in the college game, is a three-time First Team All-American, a two-time Tewaaraton finalist, and was the Most Outstanding Player in Virginia’s 2021 National Championship. He’s inarguably one of the best players in program history, and is set to break records this season.
Heading into his final season, Connor Shellenberger is:— Zach Carey (@Zach_Carey_) February 2, 2024
- a 1x NCAA champion
- a 2x Tewaaraton finalist
- 38 points from the UVA record
- 19 assists from the UVA record
- One of UVA's two 3x 1st Team AAs
What does he have to do to go down as the program's best player ever? pic.twitter.com/cO9WhlK56p
Probably the biggest key for Shellenberger in 2024 is to stay healthy throughout the season. Mid-season injuries the past two seasons have lessened his impact — particularly as a goal scorer — and while those teams had the depth of offensive talent to make up for that, this team might not. This will be the least help he’s had around him, so this offense will go as he goes. That said, there isn’t a better quarterback of an offense in the college game.
Cormier is Shellenberger’s long-tenured partner in crime who is not only seven goals away from setting the UVA record, but is 62 away from the all-time college lacrosse record. If he scores 49 goals in 2024 — he scored 45, 50, and 52 in his three full seasons thus far — he’ll become the fifth player in college lacrosse history to register 200 goals. On this team, he’ll maintain his role as a critical finisher around the crease. But he’ll also be responsible for initiating offense on the lefty wing, especially with fellow lefty Patrick McIntosh.
"...at 230 pounds, [Payton Cormier] is gonna sink into the ground a little bit more"— TLN (@LacrosseNetwork) May 13, 2023
Matt Ward, nicknamed "Piggy" during his playing days, knows a thing or two about sloppy conditions @UVAMensLax
(via ESPNU) pic.twitter.com/Mq1vLF3rYP
The newcomer to the attack line replacing Xander Dickson — the man who set the Virginia record for single season goals last spring — will be the previous #1 ranked recruit in the 2024 high school class and another prodigious offensive talent for the ‘Hoos: McCabe Millon. The heir-apparent to Shellenberger as the leader of the offense, Millon is due for a big freshman season and will get one season alongside the all-time great before being handed the reins in 2025.
UVA will ask Millon to be the offense’s second initiator, or quarterback, at attack. How well and how consistently he can beat his man will be a significant key for the ‘Hoos in 2024. Is he ready to contribute similarly to how Shellenberger was in his first season on the field? Because if so, this offense could be scary good once again.
No. 1 recruit McCabe Millon calls game for McDonogh in OT. The Eagles are headed back to the MIAA championship after an electric 8-7 win over BL. pic.twitter.com/1XTif3JIxZ— Ty Xanders (@tyxanders) May 16, 2023
There will likely be an adjustment period for Millon. But that’s reasonable, and the incredibly high floor that Shellenberger and Cormier provide should allow him the opportunity to grow more comfortable as the season progresses before turning on the after-burners for April and May.
Jack Boyden, Patrick McIntosh, Truitt Sunderland
In today’s era of lacrosse where the vast majority of the best offensive players have attack backgrounds, practically half the UVA roster could be listed under “attack depth”. But Boyden, Sunderland, and McIntosh are the most immediate options to fill in for the starters upon injury.
McIntosh did so tremendously at times for Cormier last year — including a six goal outing at Johns Hopkins — while Sunderland proved that he doesn’t make mistakes and could effectively help quarterback an offense in Shellenberger’s absence at UNC in 2023. Meanwhile, Boyden could very well bump down to attack for shifts throughout the season and will likely be the first option if Shellenberger or Millon miss time.
That said, these three will likely all play bigger roles coming out of the box this season.
Griffin Schutz, Jack Boyden, Patrick McIntosh
Schutz is due for a breakout season. The top recruit in the 2021 freshman class has 70 points through two seasons of playing midfield for UVA. His production has been incredibly solid, but the ‘Hoos will need more out of him in 2024. Schutz notched three or more points in eight games in 2023. In May, he scored just five in Virginia’s three NCAA Tournament contests.
It is entirely possible that Schutz is the UVA offense’s second most frequent initiator. The addition of Cassese — college lacrosse’s top midfielder in 2002 when he played at Duke — to the coaching staff could be a benefit for Schutz in particular as a traditional midfield dodging threat. He is a physically dominant force whose ceiling is undoubtedly high. The question lies in his consistency to produce game in, game out. New wrinkles in Cassese’s scheme may be the spark which Schutz needs in year three.
Tufts transfer Boyden, a transfer from D-III powerhouse Tufts, is an absurd talent. In just over three seasons, Boyden finished fourth in program history with 310 points. In 2023 alone he registered an absurd 157 points (69 goals and 88 assists), setting program records for single season points and assists and being named the D-III Player of the Year.
Jack Boyden Highlight Drop— Tufts Lacrosse (@TuftsLacrosse) January 26, 2024
Enjoy the top plays from 2023 DIII National Player of the Year, Jack Boyden.
Full highlight reel is on our Tufts Lacrosse YouTube Page
️ / https://t.co/JdkIEndZah pic.twitter.com/UUE0oXl89e
Now he comes to Virginia to replace the offensive production that left when Xander Dickson and Thomas McConvey graduated and headed for the professional lacrosse ranks. A right-handed Canadian, Boyden will likely be less effective as a dodger at the D-I level than he was at Tufts. But his talent, raw stick skills, and lacrosse IQ should make him an integral part of the UVA offense from the jump this season.
How he’s used this spring will be interesting to watch. According to Tiffany, Boyden (who has attack-midfield versatility) will start the year at offensive midfield. His pairing with Schutz should be a fun one, as should watching how Cassese utilizes their respective skill-sets.
The man most likely to complete the starting offensive six is senior lefty Patrick McIntosh. McIntosh had something of a breakout year last season, filling in for Cormier at times and producing as a second line offensive midfielder when called upon to attack the cage. In 2024 he’ll provide balance as a lefty who can play in the two-man game on the wing with Cormier. He should continue to have success as a dodger — especially versus short sticks — who can absorb contact and score from odd angles.
Ryan Colsey, Joey Terenzi, Truitt Sunderland, Will Cory, Thomas Mencke, Will Inderlied, Tim Myers, Chase Band, Wills Burt, Luke Pisani, Kian McCarthy, Caulley Deringer
That’s a lot of names, and for good reason. It’s a decades old lacrosse platitude, but the success of this offense may very well come down to the contributions of the second midfield, or offensive players seven, eight, and nine on the depth chart. Frankly, it’s really hard to know who those guys are going to be.
Colsey, Terenzi, and Sunderland are all in their second season in the program and are exceptional talents who were stuck behind a loaded roster of Covid-eligibility seniors in 2023. Terenzi and Colsey each redshirted, but now have major opportunities to be contributors in their first active season.
Terenzi will play a multitude of roles for the ‘Hoos in 2024, including being a two-way midfielder who presumably also takes reps on the wings of faceoffs. How the staff balances his energy and how much of that is oriented on the offensive side of the ball is something to watch as the season gets underway.
Sunderland and Colsey are each invert/big-little options to use particularly alongside Shellenberger behind the cage. Jeff Conner played that role well for years, and Colsey and Sunderland each have the potential to fill into those shoes with the taller, lankier Colsey as a player to watch and the smaller, quicker Sunderland due to take another step.
Ryan Colsey speeds down the right alley and gets his stick to the inside during some 6v6 pic.twitter.com/ZI3nzE9aPa— Kevin Brown (@kevbrown89) October 10, 2023
After that, Will Cory has played spot minutes throughout his career and is a solid rotational contributor who doesn’t make mistakes and buries the opportunities he gets. He can also fit the role of an invert option for the big-little in UVA’s 2-2-2 offense. His playing time will likely be dependent on the younger guys and how quickly they contribute.
Mencke and Inderlied are each juniors due for breakouts. The lefty Mencke is a deadly accurate shooter known for being a physical dodger, while Inderlied is the downhill dodging, step-down shooter, more traditional offensive midfielder option.
The rest are the unknowns. Myers is a sophomore — and the son of former Virginia women’s lacrosse coach Julie Myers — with a step-down shot that could mean he gets a chance on man-up at some point.
Just about everyone else who has an opportunity to crack the lineup are freshmen. Wills Burt is the highest rated of the non-Millon rookies, and he could see opportunities as a two way midfielder with the rquisite speed to be successful dodging down the alley. McCarthy is a 6’2”, 200 pound powerful, two-handed dodger who could very well carve out a role. He’s absolutely one to watch.
The 5’8” Caulley Deringer seems to be the left-handed second coming of Ian Laviano, and could scrap his way into a rotational role. Band has been climbing the depth chart per Tiffany, and has benefitted from an injury-free fall (unlike many of his classmates). Pisani is another name to watch as a traditional hard-dodging midfielder off the bench.
Keys to Success
Not overburdening Shellenberger
As Tiffany confirmed earlier this week, Shellenberger has had to overcome being well below 100% over the duration of the past two seasons. While he and the team have still had tremendous success in that time frame, this team needs him to be a full-go, particularly as a scorer. For much of last season his impact was limited because he simply wasn’t physically capable of getting to the goal himself because of the injuries he was dealing with.
Obviously Shellenberger is going to have the ball in his stick a ton this season, and he’ll be responsible for initiating much of the offense. But in order to prevent him from having to constantly dodge, re-dodge, re-set, and go again, both the scheme and the personnel around him need to have sufficient answers to create offense without Shellenberger being directly involved all the time. Doing so will mean he’s less likely to suffer an injury and can be more effective and explosive when he is the one igniting the offense.
Getting contributions from the young guys
This is the first season in a while where Virginia is going to significantly rely on contributions from underclassmen. Defensively there might be more unknowns among the starters, but on offense there are plenty of guys with the talent to make an impact; it comes down to who’s ready to do so.
Millon, Sunderland, Terenzi, and Colsey are the top names. Yet that batch of freshmen midfielders could be what puts this offense back on top as the highest scoring in the country. If Virginia doesn’t see breakout seasons from at least two of their underclassmen, life gets more difficult. Yet the potential is there for this to be a really special group yet again.
Meshing old and new schemes with old and new players
After seven seasons of Sean Kirwan, the UVA offense is changing leadership for just the second time in more than two decades. Cassese is undoubtedly a fantastic coach with plenty of experience leading a team — as he did as Lehigh’s head coach for 16 years — and running an offense.
There are also plenty of similarities between what Cassese likes to run and what the ‘Hoos have been running. And the 1-4-1 and 2-2-2 pairs offenses that Virginia specializes in are some of the most popular sets in lacrosse today.
With all that being said, there shouldn’t be too much of a learning curve between Cassese and the returning players. But there’s still something to be said for the time it takes to adapt to a new situation, and the volume of inexperienced/new players on this offense adds to that. Even the best coaches and players in the world need time to get to know each other.
This goes to say that it would not be a huge surprise if the UVA offense needs some time to reach the elite levels which it is expected to perform at in 2024. There could be some bumps along the way. This program has proven capable of improving across the season, and while that’s most often been most relevant for the defense, 2024 could be the year where peaking for May has to be prioritized more significantly over producing high flying offense in February.
But, bottom line, the talent, coaching, and experience are all there. It’s a matter of putting the pieces together, seeing who steps up, and hoping that’s enough to outscore the Dukes and Notre Dames of the college lacrosse world in 2024.