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Connor Shellenberger celebrates with his teammates after scoring the winner in double overtime.

Call Him 'Mr. May': Shellenberger Delivers 2OT Win for Virginia

May 19, 2024
Patrick Stevens
John Strohsacker

TOWSON, Md. — Virginia had not won an overtime game in Connor Shellenberger’s career entering Sunday’s NCAA quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins.

The fifth-year senior made checking that box his latest May feat with a flourish, coming around the cage and going topside with 1:40 remaining in double overtime to lift the sixth-seeded Cavaliers to an 11-10 victory before 9,642 at Unitas Stadium.

Shellenberger had three goals and an assist, building on a legacy that includes a most outstanding player nod from the 2021 postseason and a 22-point showing over three tournament games last year. This outing ensured his career extends to Saturday, when Virginia (12-5) will meet seventh-seeded Maryland in Philadelphia.

“He sashayed into the lacrosse world as a redshirt first-year in 2021 and blew us all away with what he did in those four games,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “Now with a ton more attention and everyone studying film on him, he keeps elevating his game.”

Freshman McCabe Millon had three goals and three assists and long pole Ben Wayer collected 10 of his team’s 40 ground balls for the Cavaliers, who switched goalies seven minutes in and never led in regulation as part of a wild day to secure the program’s fourth trip to the semifinals since 2019 and 26th overall.

Russell Melendez scored a season-high four goals, Jacob Angelus had a goal and five assists and Chayse Ierlan made 15 saves for the third-seeded Blue Jays (11-5), who were denied their first semifinal appearance since 2015.

“It’s a tough loss, a tough way to end the season,” Hopkins coach Peter Milliman said. “We’ve had high hopes the whole year, and I think the group in the locker room, the group that puts it all on the field, has done such a phenomenal job.”

The Blue Jays appeared ready to finish off Virginia quickly, rattling off the first four goals to chase Cavaliers goalie Matthew Nunes. In came Kyle Morris, who Tiffany said had played better in practice in recent weeks.

It was significant enough that Virginia’s staff floated making a change in the cage and giving Morris his first career start, an idea Tiffany nixed given the magnitude of the stage. But Morris entered and made eight saves in nearly 60 minutes of work.

“We have a goalie battle, don’t we now?” Tiffany said. “We’ll see how practice goes this week.”

The Cavaliers first needed to get back into it Sunday, and they did so gradually. They were within 7-5 at halftime, then knotted it on goals from Shellenberger and Ryan Colsey in a 38-second span in the third quarter.

Helping matters was a faceoff tandem of Anthony Ghobriel and Thomas Colucci, who held a 2-to-1 advantage during regulation (with a lift from Wayer on the wing) and a ride that forced the Blue Jays into nine failed clears. Those problems were magnified in the second half, when Hopkins botched three clears in both quarters on the way to piling up 25 turnovers.

“Virginia’s very good at that,” Milliman said. “It’s our season high in turnovers and our season low in clearing. It’s a tough day to have that.”

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Hopkins had another push on offense, scoring three goals in less than three minutes late in the third quarter, with Garrett Degnon’s man-up goal — Hopkins’ third extra-man score of the day — putting the Blue Jays ahead 10-7.

It did little to fluster the Cavaliers, who eroded the Hopkins advantage throughout the fourth quarter before Millon scored on the crease — a goal that was reviewed and upheld — with 2:59 remaining to tie it at 10.

“I know our guys on the field had that belief, but you could just feel this energy from our sideline,” Shellenberger said. “I was feeding off it. I’m sure other guys were feeding off it. It was this do-or-die mindset where we were just not leaving here with a loss. Whether that was true or not was a whole other thing. You could feel that belief, and that’s all that mattered.”

The next nine-plus minutes felt like a tight-wire act for both defenses. Hopkins was judicious throughout a two-minute Virginia possession that included 30 seconds of man-up play, denying a shot on cage to send things beyond regulation.

Morris made the only two saves of overtime, stopping Matt Collison and Melendez in the first overtime. Virginia short-stick defensive midfielder Chase Yager caused turnovers in both extra sessions. The teams crammed five turnovers and eight ground balls into the first overtime, a constant churn of potential endings that came and went without closure but with plenty of activity.

“Our close defense did such a good job,” Wayer said. “[John] Schroter the whole time was like, ‘Wayer, don’t ball-watch, just watch your man,’ which was awesome because I was fighting for breaths.”

The winded Wayer had one last play in him, collecting a loose ball after Yager stripped Collison in the second overtime. Coming out of a timeout, Shellenberger had Hopkins ace defenseman Scott Smith glued to him, but got around the cage on Ierlan’s left side and leaped to get a look.

“Connor prepares more than anyone else, and that was just an example of that preparation coming to fruition,” Millon said.

That closed out Virginia’s first overtime triumph since 2019, when it did so five times (including twice in the postseason) on the way to the title. The last of them, a semifinal defeat of Duke, was the most recent NCAA tournament game to reach double overtime before Sunday.

Since then, Virginia fell in OT to Duke (2021) and Maryland (2023) at home and to Notre Dame in last year’s semifinals. So Shellenberger got a first, which then led to him sobbing — a rarity — as teammates mobbed him for doing something he’s done repeatedly as a Cavalier: Meeting the moment in the last month of the season.

“Here he is with his 3-and-1 today,” Tiffany said. “That’s not what you’d expect [from] Connor versus a really good team defense like Hopkins that slides a lot. He would prefer to be a feeder; he loves being Mr. Unselfish. But he continues to earn that moniker Mr. May, doesn’t he?”