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Connor Shellenberger, toppling records, forges new chapter

The once-in-a-generation attackman continues to amaze as his Virginia career nears twilight

<p>Shellenberger prepares for another stellar outing with Virginia.</p>

Shellenberger prepares for another stellar outing with Virginia.

Coach Lars Tiffany has watched graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger’s career grow into something legendary. He has witnessed, in that time, “the consummate team-first guy” elevate everyone around him. He has observed a man he openly admires display trademark unselfishness, both now and with an eye on the future.

Recently, Shellenberger met a legendary mark. He had entered Virginia’s game against Towson March 9 sitting seven assists away from breaking the program record for career assists.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Shellenberger said after the game. “I hadn’t really thought about it a lot.”

He knew enough to know the record dangled just out of reach. Except then he somehow administered seven assists in one game and reeled it in. When Shellenberger eventually came to the sideline, someone mentioned he might have broken the record. 

“So that’s kind of how I found out,” Shellenberger said.

Ten days later, another coronation occurred. In the third quarter of Virginia’s game against Albany, Shellenberger received a pass and whizzed the ball into the corner for his 278th point, breaking the program record for career points — a record previously set in 2022 by program legend Matt Moore.

Hyperbole flows easily from Tiffany where Shellenberger is concerned. The words come out differently than other instances of coaches commending their players. Long after Virginia finished crushing Albany, Tiffany rambled on. 

"I almost have to remind myself, I've really witnessed every one of those hundreds and hundreds of points. I've been the head coach the whole time. I can't believe he scored that many points"

Records have toppled, across college sports, with increasing regularity in the last few years. Players active during the abbreviated COVID-19 season have exercised their newfound fifth year of eligibility, using the extra time to tear down previous records. Shellenberger, who redshirted during the COVID-19 season, has done this in the traditional four years. If Tiffany sometimes feels like he’s living in a dream, the sentiment is understandable. 

Shellenberger grew up in Charlottesville, coming to games at Klöckner Stadium, idolizing program legend Steele Stanwick. He attended St. Anne’s-Belfield School, about a mile from Klöckner, and became the No. 1 recruit in his class. Committing to Virginia was a dream come true after watching the program for years.

“It’s unbelievable,” Shellenberger said. “Just the storied program that U.Va. is, and just being able to be a part of the tradition and play here at Klöckner and play for Coach Tiffany and Coach Cassese, Coach Kirwan, Coach Turner.”

Shellenberger has been more than just a part of the tradition. “Mr. Unselfish,” according to Tiffany, has helped uphold it. He took a reduced scholarship this season in order to supplement his teammates’ scholarships and has shared NIL deals with his teammates. 

That generosity also reflects his on-field tendencies. Shellenberger is Virginia’s quarterback, always looking to pass. His coaches often have even encouraged him to shoot more.

“He’s such a good person,” Tiffany said. “He’s so unselfish. He wants to be the greatest teammate ever, and that’s why he dishes the ball to everyone else.”

He has stayed that way, his character unadjusted, through an offseason offensive coordinator change, as Kevin Cassese replaced Sean Kirwan, who departed to take the head coaching position at Dartmouth. Cassese has tweaked the system slightly, but the transition has proven seamless.

“Coach Cassese has been able to put his own little spin on it, a little bit,” Shellenberger said. “Just the amount of focus that [graduate attackman] Payton Cormier’s been getting within our offense has been awesome.” 

That focus has surely aided Shellenberger, who shares a strong relationship with Cormier. The two are a natural combination, Shellenberger looking for assists every time he touches the ball and Cormier looking for goals. They have been in the program alongside each other for five years, and by now Shellenberger knows exactly where Cormier will be and exactly where to pass the ball. 

However, an on-field connection is not the only thing the two players share. Time is winding down on the Shellenberger and Cormier era, and soon both will exhaust their eligibility and move on. Before the Albany game, some of the team’s older players, Shellenberger included, started to reckon with their impending departure. 

“It’s weird to think that we only have, I guess, at this point, three or four more games on Klöckner,” Shellenberger said. “So it’s flown by, and we’re trying to appreciate every day.”

While continuing to break records, Shellenberger is passing the torch to another star player for when his eligibility finally does run out. Freshman attackman McCabe Millon was, like Shellenberger, the top recruit in his high school class and, like Shellenberger, is turning fans’ heads toward Charlottesville. He has scored 26 goals in nine games, recording hat tricks in six outings. It is a pace that could cause Shellenberger’s ownership of the program points record to be relatively temporary — he hopes so.

“I was telling him, I hope I’m here in three years when he’s breaking the record,” Shellenberger said. “So hold him to that.”

The Shellenberger-Millon-Cormier connection at attack has pulverized opposing defenses. The trio seems sometimes to almost have too much fun out on Klöckner’s grass. But as much as Shellenberger loves the game and embraces the journey, there is, of course, one ultimate goal — a National Championship.

“The end goal is winning the national championship and taking care of the things on a daily basis that will lead to that,” Shellenberger said after the Albany game.

That mentality says it all. It explains how Shellenberger has cultivated his skills and added to his growing pile of records. It explains how he has established such a magnetic presence, inevitably sending cameras and conversation his way.

More than that, though, it explains the feelings he inspires in his teammates and coaches. They applaud him for his unselfishness and his tireless work ethic and for the way he approaches college lacrosse’s daily chores and its blinding weekly spotlight. 


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