EAST HARTFORD — After a hard-fought 12-11 win over North Carolina in Saturday’s semifinals, Virginia forward Connor Shellenberger had a chance to play for a national title.
He said it was a chance that meant everything.
“It’s why you put so many hours in in the fall as a team and you do all the extra things that you do,” Shellenberger told media Saturday while covered in faded eye black. “It’s our dream. Everyone on the team, we compete for this reason.”
When his name was called Monday, the redshirt freshman did not miss his shot. Named the player of the tournament, Shellenberger led Virginia to its seventh, and second consecutive, national title at Rentschler Field.
He finished the day with four goals and two assists in the 17-16 win over Maryland — which had been the only remaining undefeated team — in one of the highest-scoring NCAA championship games ever.
Shellenberger grew up going to Virginia lacrosse games, since he lived close by. He said he was even in the stands for the Cavs’ national championship win over Maryland in 2011. Ten years later, his parents were there to watch him take home the trophy.
“Looking up when we won and seeing my parents in the stands, it’s about as good as it gets,” Shellenberger said. “All the sacrifices that they made for me, and even just driving me to lacrosse when I was a little kid and letting me have that dream. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me and giving me this opportunity, and then to do it with this group of guys, these coaches, it’s literally what you dream of.”
The Charlottesville, Virginia, native scored twice on Virginia’s six-goal run during the first and second quarters, tying the score at 4-4 and then putting the Cavs up, 7-4. He then picked up another two on a five-goal run in the third and fourth quarters.
His fourth goal came on a move from behind the crease, twisting and firing it across his body into the roof of the net. After scoring, he ran over to his bench and celebrated, jumping up and down before being swarmed by his teammates.
The top recruit of his class, the redshirt freshman planned not to play last year before the season was canceled due to COVID-19. He grew up going to Virginia games and committed to the school after initially committing to play at Johns Hopkins in middle school.
“We’ve known he’s this good. It was interesting last year, he was on the scout team and he was absolutely tearing us apart, and we were like, ‘This kid is really going to redshirt?’” senior defensemen Jared Conners said. “But his decision paid off, and he’s maturing into his own.”
Maryland head coach John Tillman, who also went after Shellenberger during his recruiting period, called him an “outstanding young man” on top of his great skill.
“He’s just so complete. He sees the field well. He shoots the ball well. He’s got a good feel for the game,” Tillman said. “So, he does everything well. He’s a very complete player. He was that way as a young guy, watching him play going through high school. He’s just really blossomed at this level.”
He finished the season as Virginia’s leading point scorer with 37 goals and 42 assists in 18 games.
Alex Rode, Virginia’s starting goalie who made a save in the final seconds to ice Virginia’s victory, called Shellenberger “one of the best players” he’s ever seen. Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany echoed that sentiment.
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“He’s one of the best in the game, period,” Tiffany said after the game.