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Taking a deep dive into the men’s lacrosse roster

The defending National Champions return a plethora of talent

<p>Sophomore attackman Connor Shellenberger highlights an incredibly talented Cavalier roster.</p>

Sophomore attackman Connor Shellenberger highlights an incredibly talented Cavalier roster.

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Virginia Men’s lacrosse will return to action Feb. 5 against Air Force to begin its season in search of its third straight national title. As the reigning national champions, the Cavaliers are entering the season ranked No. 1 by Inside Lacrosse thanks to an outstanding roster that features five Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Americans. 

Notable Returners 

Sophomore Attackman Connor Shellenberger 

Shellenberger was listed as a Preseason First Team All-American by Inside Lacrosse after an outstanding freshman season. Listed as the No. 1 recruit for his class, Shellenberger did not disappoint, scoring 37 goals and recording 42 assists. 

During the National Championship game against Maryland last May, Shellenberger recorded four goals and two assists, displaying composure in the biggest game of his career. As a result, Shellenberger was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament. 

“[He] primarily will be used on attack moving forward, combining with Matt Moore to create the two-headed quarterback,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. 

Graduate student Attackman Matt Moore 

Moore returns for his fifth season “determined to lead this team again both with his emotional guidance and his ferocious attacking style,” Tiffany said. 

Moore enters this season as a Preseason All-American after recording 33 goals and 34 assists during the 2021 season. Alongside Shellenberger, Moore is known as one of the quarterbacks on the offense for his excellent vision all over the field.  

Senior Faceoff Specialist Petey Lasalla 

The Preseason All-American won 62.4 percent of his faceoffs last season and will look to continue his dominance. LaSalla's ability goes beyond the faceoff as he is described as a “stay-and-play faceoff man,” Tiffany said. LaSalla proved this when he scored two goals against Yale during the 2019 National Championship win. 

Senior Midfielder Grayson Sallade 

Sallade plays a crucial position for the Cavaliers as a short-stick defensive midfielder with the “role of neutralizing the most arduous of matchups,” Tiffany said. Sallade picked up 54 ground balls and caused 13 turnovers last season earning him Preseason All-American. Although his primary role is defense, Sallade served as a threat in transition last season, scoring four goals. 

Junior Attackman Payton Cormier 

Cormier was the Cavaliers’ leading goal scorer last season with 45, and he was third in points with 53. Cormier is an excellent shooter who thrived off of Moore and Shellenberger feeding him the ball in open space last season. 

Junior Defenseman Cade Saustad 

In the national championship game against Maryland, Saustad limited Tewaaraton Trophy winner Jared Bernhardt to only two goals. Saustad recorded 38 ground balls and caused 17 turnovers last season and is determined to get his third national championship. 

“[Saustad] craves the toughest matchups against the nation’s best attackmen and winning.” Tiffany said. 

Senior Midfielder Jeff Connor  

Connor has served as a two-way midfielder for the Cavaliers, starting nine games last season, scoring 14 goals, recording eight assists and picking up 23 ground balls. Due to his two way ability, Connor should see the field quite often this season.

“[He] handles the complexities of both our offensive and defensive schemes well, putting in the extra film work and meeting room time with both groups,” Tiffany said. 

Depth on Offense 

With the loss of midfielder Dox Aitken to the Premier Lacrosse League, a significant void will need to be filled in the midfield. Juniors Peter Garno, Micheal Bienkowski and senior Jack Simmons will look to rotate into the offense this season. Junior attackman Xander Dickson — who recorded 20 points last season — will also look to play a larger role. Additionally, Dickson proved last season that he is a threat to other teams trying to clear, picking up 15 ground balls and causing six turnovers.

Defensive Prowess 

Despite the loss of long-stick defender Jared Connors to the Premier Lacrosse League, this defense still has plenty of depth. Saustad anchors the defense but will be supported by juniors Quentin Matsui, Scott Bower and sophomore Cole Kastner. Kastner and Saustad were a part of the defense that held Georgetown’s Jake Carraway scoreless during the NCAA quarterfinal round. 

New Additions 

Freshman Attackmen Griffin Schutz 

Schutz is the No. 1 overall prospect according to Inside Lacrosse’s Power 100 Incoming Freshmen rankings. Schutz — listed at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 220 pounds — “dodges like a bulldozer, finishes like a marksman,” Tiffany said. Schutz scored Virginia’s first goal in the team’s scrimmage against Team USA and will look to make his impact in the high powered offense. 

Freshman Goalie Matthew Nunes 

The national championship game ended last season with a key save by former Virginia goalie Alex Rode sealing the title for the Cavaliers. Despite this being his first year on grounds, Nunes is making a case to see the field this season. Nunes is the No. 1 goalie in the freshmen class by Inside Lacrosse and “has made the transition from high school to college as seamless as possible due to an exceptional work ethos, focus and talent,” Tiffany said. 

The Cavaliers will kick off their season against Air Force at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb 5. at Klöckner Stadium. 

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