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Payton Cormier breaks Division I goals record

An eight-goal explosion cemented the graduate attackman as the most prolific scorer in college lacrosse history

<p>When it went in, Cormier raised two arms in the air and looked toward his teammates and the stands.</p>

When it went in, Cormier raised two arms in the air and looked toward his teammates and the stands.

The game kept going, and the goals kept mounting. Graduate attackman Payton Cormier, chasing a monumental record, scored again and again. He tallied five goals by halftime of Virginia’s first-round NCAA Tournament game Saturday against St. Joseph’s, pushing himself to the brink of breaking a slew of records. The records were shattered in the third quarter, when he somehow scored three times more.

Those eight goals represented the precise number necessary to vault to the summit of the Division I all-time career goals standings, putting Cormier’s total at 222 career goals. That put him one goal above Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe, whose mark of 221 goals from 2021 had previously topped the list. 

Cormier simultaneously broke the Virginia single-season goals record, reaching 63 to surpass the mark of 61 set in 2023 by former teammate Xander Dickson. He also broke the program single-game NCAA Tournament goals record, a record he already co-owned after scoring six goals in last year’s first round. He also, in his final game at Klöckner Stadium, set a single-game career high in goals. 

“Couldn’t ask for a better way to go out,” Cormier said.

It seemed fitting for the national leader in goals per game, a man basically automatic when the ball enters his stick and a shred of space materializes, to become officially the most prolific scorer in the history of the sport in such absurd fashion. In a tournament setting in which only one game is guaranteed, breaking that record never even seemed a certainty. 

“Man, Payton put the ball in some tiny little spots sometimes,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “I thought the goalie for St. [Joseph’s] was anticipating well where the ball was going, yet Payton still stuck it just between the body and the pipe. What a gifted scorer.”

The record, though, like many others that have tumbled down in the last few years, raises an interesting discussion. Both Cormier and O’Keefe, the previous record-holder, played five years of college lacrosse, using the extra COVID-19 year of eligibility — a luxury their predecessors never afforded. That certainly helped them both scramble past Duke’s Justin Guterding, who scored 212 goals between 2015 and 2018. Neither Cormier nor O’Keefe, though, played five full seasons, after the pandemic truncated the 2020 season. 

Debate about records aside, Cormier now resides unquestionably atop the scoring mountain. He is the greatest scorer, officially, in the history of college lacrosse. 

Approaching the summit, Cormier notched his seventh goal early in the third quarter, tying O’Keefe. The record, as that goal thudded into the net, seemed an inevitability. It soon arrived. 

Stationed at a fairly tight angle some eight yards from the goal, Cormier received a pass. He caught it and shot immediately, a low scooping shot destined for the net like so many others over the years. When it went in, Cormier raised two arms in the air and looked toward his teammates and the stands. He tilted his head briefly upward, then leaned into the crowd of teammates rushing to envelop him. 

Cue confusion from Coach Lars Tiffany, who had no idea why one goal late in a blowout prompted such a giddy celebration.

“People were running on the field,” Tiffany said. “I’m like, ‘Get off the field.’”

He usually tries not to think about records, he said. He usually will know, though, if one of his players is about to enshrine himself in history. This, though, was not remotely on his radar.

“I absolutely, honestly, was not thinking about the record today,” Tiffany said. “It was a shock to me.”

That underscores, again, the significance of your last game on your home field, scoring eight goals to break one of the sport’s most hallowed records. The record-breaking tally came, fittingly, off an assist from graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger, the active Division I assists leader. Shellenberger assisted two of Cormier’s goals Saturday as well as legions of others over their four years playing together. The connection between the two attackmen — two former prodigies who are now this team’s scintillating elders — is deep and dazzling. 

“There’s so many ways to say it,” Cormier said. “He’s the best player in college lacrosse. He’s my best friend. He’s my roommate. He’s a leader. There’s so many things you can say about Connor Shellenberger, and it makes my life easy that I’ve been fortunate enough to be teammates with him for four years.”

The pair shared an embrace on the field right after the eighth goal. Then Cormier retired to the sideline, where teammates and coaches mobbed him. The day, ultimately, was about Cormier, about his accomplishment, even if he never could have achieved it without Shellenberger. The record garnished an otherwise mundane Virginia victory with something indelible. 

Cormier is among lacrosse’s most idiosyncratic attackmen. He is not exactly versatile, not helpful as a rider or on ground balls, never a devastating dodger. All he can do, mostly, is shoot and score, but he does so with devastating efficiency. He has always been unique for his narrow but highly impactful play style. Now he is unique because he stands alone atop the mountain, the all-time goals king of college lacrosse.


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