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Millon, top-ranked freshman, dazzles in debut

The nation’s No. 1 recruit boasted an impressive introduction to his college lacrosse career

<p>Freshman attackman McCabe Millon tallied five goals in his Cavaliers debut Saturday.</p>

Freshman attackman McCabe Millon tallied five goals in his Cavaliers debut Saturday.

If he had not already, freshman attackman McCabe Millon made his name known to the Division I lacrosse world Saturday. Millon’s five-goal performance in Virginia’s 19-11 win against No. 8 Michigan — his collegiate debut — earned plaudits from teammates and coaches alike, who lined up to sing his praises at the postgame presser.

“He’s really something special,” sophomore defenseman John Schroter said. 

Schroter’s comment summarized the general impression Millon left on those watching Saturday. While his weekend display was holistically impressive, it was his fourth goal in particular that turned most heads. Late in the second quarter, having already registered a hat trick, Millon cradled the ball near the sideline. He then rocketed toward a defender and curved around him before reaching the crease’s fringe. Then, he leapt into the air and threw the ball into the net. 

Michigan called a timeout just a minute later, causing Millon to parade to the sideline, the home crowd roaring in appreciation. But those were not the only cheers Millon generated Saturday. He scored his first goal, a near-post bullet after curling around from behind the goal, with a few minutes remaining in the first quarter. He then scored his second a few minutes later in a similar fashion, except this time from the other side. 

A Michigan defender slammed him to the ground after he released the shot, sending Millon scrambling back to his feet to push back. A penalty was called on Michigan, then another on Millon, for unsportsmanlike conduct, much to the crowd’s disgust. 

Asked about the incident postgame, Millon said all the right things. He called his conduct in drawing the penalty a lapse of judgment. He sounded incredibly mature, especially for a player in his first college game. 

“Probably a bad decision,” Millon said. “And we’ll try and get rid of that in the future.”

Coach Lars Tiffany shook his head when asked about the penalty, discounting the indication that Millon erred in drawing the flag. He said simply that everyone has little things to clean up. This includes Millon, who committed a team-high three turnovers, but his debut otherwise seemed unimpeachable. 

His third and fifth goals looked nearly identical to his first two, featuring the same instrumental characteristic — a teammate setting a solid pick. All four times, Millon started behind the goal, and, as he wrapped around, a teammate sidled over and impeded the defender, momentarily freeing Millon to unleash. 

“We had a game plan going in with a lot of picks,” Millon said. “So we really executed our pick play pretty well today, and we were able to get my hands free a couple times.”

The fourth goal, though, was just individual talent. It came, according to Tiffany, in part because of the way Virginia’s system encourages offensive freedom.

“This is who we are at Virginia lacrosse,” Tiffany said. “We try to take away the playing with fear. Go out and be loose and be yourself.”

Millon towed heavy expectations into the season opener as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, but he surpassed even those with his performance Saturday. Nobody expected such immediate success, not even Tiffany.

“What a fantastic performance by a first-year,” Tiffany said. “Aren’t they supposed to feel a little scared?” 

The fact that Millon even started the game is itself a notable achievement. That decision came only recently, with starting positions remaining unclear throughout the fall. There had been a trend for years of highly touted recruits, burdened with expectations, underperforming slightly upon arriving at Virginia in the fall. According to Tiffany, Shellenberger and program greats Dox Aitken and Matt Moore were part of it. But Millon bucked that trend and returned in the spring for preseason with something special.

“[Millon] came back in January, and it was like, okay, you can see the composure, the poise and maturity,” Tiffany said.

Millon has clearly earned his starting spot, and what followed went rather swimmingly during Saturday’s victory. And while he called it a dream come true, playing lacrosse at this level seems like something of a birthright — lacrosse is definitely in Millon’s blood.

Millon’s parents have both earned spots within the hallowed walls of the United States Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His father, Mark, played at Massachusetts and starred in the MLL and the NLL and on the U.S. national team. His mother, Erin, played at Maryland and also dominated for the national team. Furthermore, his younger brother, Brendan, is the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2025 and will join him in Charlottesville in two years. The elder Millon, though, is focused on the moment. He put on an impressive show Saturday, establishing himself as an instant stalwart in his new home stadium.

“This is the best place to play lacrosse in the country,” Millon said. “[I] Watched so many games here, countless games here, growing up. So this is just as good of an experience as I could have imagined.”

Millon’s next moment comes Saturday during a road confrontation against No. 16 Richmond, and fans can expect even more offensive highlight-reel moments. Other powerhouses like Shellenberger may be the primary options for this Cavalier offense, but going forward, Millon could be the difference-maker for Virginia’s pursuit of yet another National Championship. 

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