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Virginia lacrosse players Connor Shellenberger (1) and McCabe Millon (9) slap hands during the NCAA quarterfinals at Towson.

‘Born and Bred’ to Play Lacrosse, McCabe Millon Was Made for Moments Like These

May 24, 2024
Gary Lambrecht
John Strohsacker

When Virginia freshman attackman McCabe Millon announced his official arrival on the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse scene by scoring five of UVA’s 19 goals in a season-opening rout of future Big Ten champion Michigan  — and produced 15 points during a 3-0 start that included impressive wins over Richmond and Ohio State — not a single Cavaliers coach or player was surprised.

Millon, who came to Charlottesville as the game’s No. 1 overall prospect and is the son of lacrosse luminaries Mark and Erin Brown Millon, maintained his high standard throughout the regular season and into his first collegiate postseason.

Two days after Virginia’s 11-10 double-overtime comeback victory over Johns Hopkins in the NCAA quarterfinals, superstar grad student Connor Shellenberger, the leader of UVA’s potent attack that includes all-time Division I career goals scorer Payton Cormier, marveled at Millon’s poise and timely performance in his first truly high-pressure playoff game.

Without a hard-nosed defense that forced many of Hopkins’ 25 turnovers, and without Millon’s cool and scintillating three-goal, three-assist show Sunday, sixth-seeded Virginia (12-5) might not be preparing for a confrontation with No. 7 seed Maryland on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Virginia is appearing in its fourth final-four weekend under eighth-year head coach Lars Tiffany. The Cavs are chasing their eighth NCAA title and third under Tiffany, who guided them to national championships in 2019 and 2021.

Millon, who also has occasionally helped the Cavaliers at midfield late in the season, leads all Division I freshmen in goals (39) and assists (25). His team-high six-point effort at Towson — where Virginia overcame a spectacular 15-save performance by Hopkins goalie Chayse Ierlan — still resonates.

“It was cool to see [Millon] show the country what we see every day [in practice]. He puts defenses and defenders on their heels. He kind of willed us to that win,” said Shellenberger, Virginia’s four-time first-team All-American and its all-time leader in career assists and points.

“[Millon] did it with his scoring and with the ball in his stick as a feeder,” Shellenberger added. “For him to have that kind of composure and confidence, on that stage during a tough early stretch for our offense, was unbelievable for a freshman. He plays bigger than he is [at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds], not just with his physicality but with his explosiveness. He prepares and handles things like a senior.

“Those are the moments you dream of as a kid, playing in my hometown in front of 10,000 people. You envision that when you’re working out and working on your game,” Millon said. “I’m very grateful for Connor and Payton and the other upperclassmen for what they’ve taught me, [which is] how to be a Virginia lacrosse player on and off the field.”

Virginia freshman McCabe Millon celebrates after scoring a goal in the Cavaliers' NCAA quarterfinal win over Johns Hopkins at Towson.
Virginia Athletics

Millon, a Baltimore native and former star at McDonogh who grew up drilling down deeply on the fundamentals of the game with his father coaching him, took charge by sparking a sluggish Virginia offense early. The Blue Jays had bolted to a 4-0 lead and benefitted from a rare off day by Cormier, who scored one goal on 11 shots.

Millon assisted on Virginia’s first goal midway through the first quarter with a snap feed from behind the net that Jack Boyden converted to cool Hopkins’ momentum. Millon later scored back-to-back goals that got the Cavs closer.

First, from the left wing about 10 yards out, Millon used Hopkins All-American defenseman Scott Smith as a screen as he blasted a shot by Ierlan to cut the Hopkins lead to 5-3 late in the first quarter. Then, he pumped a nifty, turnaround five-yard jump shot through a tight window to cut the lead to 5-4 with 9:39 left in the first half. Ierlan, who was nearly hugging the right pipe, barely saw the well-hidden, low-percentage shot that blew by him.

Millon’s EMO feed to Boyden produced a goal late in the first half to cut the Blue Jays’ lead to 7-5 and started a 3-0 run that tied the game at 7. The Blue Jays responded with a 3-0 run late in the third quarter.

Virginia clawed back with a 3-0 burst in the fourth quarter. The last score was authored by Millon. He darted by Smith, who was late cutting off Millon’s goal line extended path, before Millon buried the goal — and barely avoided a crease violation — that evened the score at 10 with 2:59 left and set up OT.

“McCabe is a hunter out there. He is hunting goals,” Tiffany said. “He is a constant threat to an opponent. But just like you’re never quite sure what you’ll get from a freshman in the first few games of the spring, you’re not sure what you’ll get in their first games in May.”

“What we saw [on Sunday] was a first-year player whom the moment was not too big for. Some of our starters were not having their best day, and McCabe was attacking. He was excited, feeling the moment, creating the moment. He didn’t hesitate. It was wonderful to witness.”

“[Millon] was born and bred to be excellent at the sport of lacrosse, to be someone who thrives under pressure with the ball in his stick in the big games, in those big moments,” said Kevin Cassese, Virginia’s first-year offensive coordinator. “He can fall back on his training. He’s been doing it since he was a little boy.”

“His competitive spirit jumped out when I’d see him play while I was on the recruiting trail [as former head coach at Lehigh]. You always saw his confidence, whether it was in a game with [Mark Millon’s] 91 Maryland club team or a high school championship game with McDonogh or a Nike or Under Armour game. I inherited him when I came here, which is a pretty nice gift.”

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Millon  — whose younger brother, Brendan, is a junior star attackman at McDonogh, also the consensus No. 1 recruit in the incoming class of 2025 and headed to Virginia — said his parents mean everything to him. Both as supporters and teachers of the game.

Erin Brown Millon, who played for two seasons at Essex (Md.) Community College before transferring to Maryland and becoming an All-American as a senior in 1990, was a two-time gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Team. She was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2014. Today, she runs The Balanced Athlete Project, which specializes in sport-specific and performance training education and offers a holistic approach to athlete development and well-being.

Mark Millon, who starred at attack at UMass (1990-93) and was inducted in 2009, is widely considered one of the all-time greats and one of the most decorated players in U.S. Men’s National Team history. He won titles playing professionally in the MLL and NLL and won titles in both leagues and was a 2009 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee.

“He was a left-handed version of Mikey Powell,” recalled Cassese, referring to Millon’s excellent speed, ability to change directions, shoot with both hands and score in many ways.

Mark started Millon Lacrosse Camps in 1994 and has thrived by teaching the game to young players for 30 years. Much of his tutelage has been directed at both of his sons, who also were exposed to plenty of baseball, soccer and basketball at early ages. McCabe even wrestled in middle school. By that stage, both sons had turned their focus mainly to lacrosse.

“There was never any pressure from either of my parents to play lacrosse or be good at it,” McCabe Millon said. “But lacrosse is so prevalent in Baltimore society and was often the talk of the house. It was easy to fall into it. I found the real love for it myself.”

The entirety of my game is based on the things I’ve picked up from my dad. ... I might have a little more flair for the dramatic.

McCabe Millon

Mark Millon said a key component of his business leans heavily on individual instruction, and that has translated into high-level skills that both athletic sons clearly have absorbed. Throughout most of McCabe’s first year in Charlottesville, they have maintained contact. The father will inquire about how his son’s individual sessions are going and send him specific lists of what to work on.

“The list has nothing to do with X’s and O’s,” Mark Millon said. “It’s things like working on footwork, all the dodges and change of direction, overhand and underhand releases, using both hands, shooting from multiple plains and angles. It’s all about having as many tools as you can and having incredible fundamentals.”

“I know McCabe has a busy schedule at school. And the guys have to watch a lot of film and study X’s and O’s. At UVA, there isn’t a lot of time to work on question marks. But he has worked so hard on his game, and it shows. I’m incredibly proud of him.”

“The entirety of my game is based on the things I’ve picked up from my dad,” McCabe Millon said. “He’s been anything and everything to me, a great dad and a great coach. The way we run and change direction and carry our sticks are similar. My footwork, roll dodge looks like him. I might have a little more flair for the dramatic.”

“As competitive as they are, that is a family built on love for each other,” Cassese said. “That jumps off the page when I think of the Millons.”

Tiffany thinks back to September 2022 and sighs with happiness. Nearly a year after he had verbally committed to Duke, but later questioned his decision, Millon decided to sign with Virginia early in his senior year at McDonogh.

“We were absolutely thrilled. We worked hard for that [signing]. I think I did three home visits,” Tiffany said. “When McCabe decided to join us in Charlottesville, it felt like winning a title.”