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Jack Boyden, a superstar in Division III, reaches a new frontier

The Tufts transfer dazzled college lacrosse’s lower tier, and now arrives at a fresh challenge

<p>Graduate transfer Jack Boyden brings a record-breaking pedigree to the Cavaliers.</p>

Graduate transfer Jack Boyden brings a record-breaking pedigree to the Cavaliers.

Graduate attacker Connor Shellenberger listened and then laughed. Someone had queried him about graduate transfer Jack Boyden, prompting a hearty chuckle, the type that indicates its owner knows something special.

“Jack is… ridiculous,” Shellenberger said.

This is intended, if it is unclear in writing, as a compliment. Because Boyden is an absolutely ridiculous lacrosse player. He transferred to Virginia this offseason after four years at Division III Tufts, where he registered ridiculous statistics, stockpiled a ridiculous amount of accolades, and performed ridiculous acts with a small rubber sphere and a medium-sized metal stick.

“His skillset is ridiculous,” Shellenberger said, speaking on the Wahoo Central Podcast in early January. “He can do really anything on the field.”

The wizardry must sometimes be seen to be believed. The privilege of watching it live has belonged, for the last couple years, only to the fans ringing the fences of Tufts’ Bello Field, to the people who glanced out their upstairs windows from the houses across the street, and to the lacrosse enthusiasts who tracked down internet streams.

But the Boyden experience has finally migrated from the generally inconspicuous world of Division III. Its destination is perhaps the grandest stage in all of lacrosse, and Boyden is well aware.

“It is pretty crazy,” Boyden said. “Like, thinking about playing a game on Klockner [Stadium].”

Boyden has journeyed, physically and metaphorically, quite a distance from his childhood in Ontario, Canada. 

He contributed at Tufts his freshman and sophomore years but never escaped a loaded roster’s second line. Roster turnover before Boyden’s junior year opened the door, and he hurried through, switching from offensive midfield to attack and charging for 86 goals and 47 assists as Tufts finished 19-3, its season ending in the national semifinals.

That season’s rumblings served only as a warning sign. Last season, Tufts, a perennial powerhouse, became an inexorable steamroller of a lacrosse team. The Jumbos flattened their opponents. 

The final scores resembled those of one-sided football games — 27-9 over Colby, 31-9 over Springfield, 21-7 over Stevens, 24-7 over Cabrini, 27-5 over Emmanuel to name a few. According to Boyden, the program’s culture and talent are central to its repeated success.

Boyden rested at the heart of that success. He recorded 157 points across 23 games, a season after recording 133 points across 22 games. 

In response, a barge of awards flowed down the Mystic River to Tufts, washing up on Boyden’s doorstep. The list of accolades stretches on, it feels, forever. The 2023 Iroquois National Outstanding Player of the Year award summarizes them all — it anointed Boyden the premier player in Division III lacrosse. 

But beyond the accolades dangled a deeper goal, the ultimate goal — winning an NCAA championship. 

Tufts reached championship weekend undefeated and rolling, backed by a thunderous wave of momentum. Then along came Salisbury. The two titanic programs clashed at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, each gunning for a triumphant climax to a commanding season. 

“You always look for that fairytale-type ending,” Boyden said.

Salisbury’s game plan was clear: stop Jack Boyden.

“We gotta get the ball out of that kid’s stick,” Salisbury Coach Jim Berkman said months later. “If someone else is gonna beat us, we’re gonna make sure somebody else does.”

Tufts trailed throughout and was eventually met with a season-ending 17-12 defeat.

“It was tough,” Boyden said. “Losing the last game. You always, I feel like, want to go out on a win.”

Boyden immediately had to consider the pressing question of where he would play lacrosse the next season. He had entered the transfer portal months ago, in the fall, wanting to measure interest before his senior season started. 

But rewind a few months more. During Boyden’s junior season, Tufts traveled south to play Lynchburg. The Jumbos stayed at the Charlottesville Holiday Inn, in close proximity, of course, to the campus of a certain Division I lacrosse powerhouse. 

One night during the stay, a Tufts alumnus joined the team for dinner. Sean Kirwan had graduated from Tufts in 2012 and briefly coached there, before departing to join Lars Tiffany’s staff at Brown. When Tiffany had relocated to Virginia to become head coach, Kirwan had followed. 

Boyden met Kirwan at dinner that night. Some months later, after Boyden entered the portal, a text popped up on his phone. It was Kirwan. Virginia, it seemed, wanted Boyden.

Other suitors approached Boyden, of course, and he said he visited North Carolina and talked to some Big Ten schools. He also considered returning to Tufts.

“A really tough decision,” Boyden said. “Honestly.”

But he assessed all the factors — the unavoidable change at Tufts as players graduated, the succession of talented younger guys patiently awaiting their opportunity — and decided to depart. He chose Virginia, and now he is in Charlottesville, poised to compete in Division I. 

“There’s definitely a bit of a curve trying to make the transition,” Boyden said. “I think maybe some things you could maybe get away with at the DIII level, you can’t really here.”

He also mentioned the heightened skill level and stick skills, the increased athleticism and depth. The offensive openings are tighter compared to Division III’s windows.

“The length and the closing speed just makes the windows tighter,” Boyden said. “So you just gotta make quicker decisions. And what you might consider an open look at the Division III level is a lot tighter in Division I.”

Boyden also marveled at the level of facilities and quantity of support staff available at Virginia. A Division III program, like Tufts, is a team. A Division I program is an operation, gifted with a nutritionist and an academic coordinator and a dedicated trainer. 

The transition has been smooth, but in one area it has been seamless. The expectation at Tufts is to contend for a national championship — the expectation at Virginia is identical.

“It's been a good transition that way, where they expect a lot out of you, which I like,” Boyden said. “The program's big saying is ‘pressure is a privilege.’ I feel like I felt that as well at my old school.”

Boyden has acclimated quickly on the field. He carried in his on-field artistry, which he said developed at Tufts, the product of savvy coaching that nurtured a sort of practiced creativity. 

“I’ve really been blown away by his stick skills,” Tiffany said in November on the Wahoo Central podcast. “We knew that. We saw that on film. But to be live and up close and personal?”

The wizardry, it seems, again, must sometimes be seen to be believed. Virginia fans will soon see it, and believe it, and witness a player who seems a natural addition to an explosive roster.

“He’s fit in perfectly,” Shellenberger said. “And he’s… very good.”

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