By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Growing up in the Toronto area, Jack Boyden was well aware of Payton Cormier’s goal-scoring prowess. Boyden and Cormier played against each other in box lacrosse and together on a couple of occasions with Team Ontario.

Boyden is a prolific scorer himself, having totaled 167 goals in three-plus seasons at Division III Tufts University. Not until he joined his fellow Canadian at the University of Virginia, however, did Boyden fully appreciate No. 24’s ability to torment goalkeepers.

“I obviously knew how great of a player he was,” Boyden said, “but it’s pretty sweet to witness firsthand.”

Boyden, a graduate transfer from Tufts, is in his first year at UVA, and he witnessed a number of remarkable performances from Cormier during the regular season. No. 24 topped them all Saturday afternoon.

In the NCAA tournament’s first round, Cormier scored a career-best eight goals to lead sixth-seeded Virginia to a 17-11 victory over Saint Joseph’s. That pushed the 6-foot-2, 230-pound attackman’s career total to 222, the most ever by a Division I men’s lacrosse player.

That Cormier ascended to the top spot in his final game at Klöckner Stadium made the occasion that much more memorable for him.

“I can’t say enough good things about Klöckner and Charlottesville, UVA,” Cormier said. “It’s the best place on earth. I’ve managed to stick around for six years and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. So it’s definitely pretty special. I’m happy my family was here to see it.”

The left-handed Cormier broke the record of 221 set by former Penn State great Mac O’Keefe, and his eight goals are the most ever by a Cavalier in an NCAA tournament game. Moreover, with 63 goals this year Cormier now holds the program’s single-season record. (Xander Dickson, who scored 61 goals last season, held the previous record.)

“What a gifted scorer and what an amazing performance on his very last game at Klöckner Stadium,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said.

The victory snapped the Wahoos’ four-game losing streak and sends them to the NCAA quarterfinals. UVA (11-5) will meet third-seeded Johns Hopkins or Lehigh next Sunday in Towson, Md. Saint Joseph’s, which came to Charlottesville on a 12-game winning streak, finished 12-4.

“We’re just gunning and pushing to play one more week, one more week at a time,” Cormier said. “Every single week that we step out here, it’s an opportunity for us to advance … Fortunately, we’ve had guys that have had success, and we have young guys that want to be successful and the older guys are sort of leading the way. Overall, it’s just a great group of guys that want to reach what we’re capable of reaching.”

Payton Cormier (24)

Cormier, who’s from Oakville, Ontario, near Toronto, committed to UVA in July 2015, the summer before his sophomore year of high school. Dom Starsia was the Wahoos’ head coach then, but Tiffany was leading the program by the time Cormier arrived on Grounds in the summer of 2018.

The Hoos won the program’s sixth NCAA title in 2019, but Cormier missed that season while recovering from a knee injury. He became a starting midfielder in 2020 and scored 12 goals in UVA’s six games, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic cut that season short.

Cormier moved to attack in 2021 and finished with a team-high 45 goals to help Virginia repeat as NCAA champion. He led the Cavaliers in goals (50) again in 2022, and scored 52 last season, second only to Dickson on the team.

On a recent Wahoo Central Podcast, Cormier reflected on his illustrious UVA career. Heading into his final NCAA tournament, Cormier was in position to secure the all-time record, but most observers figured he would need at least two games to do so.

“The fact that he got it in one day is pretty sweet,” said Boyden, who had a goal and two assists Saturday. “We know he can score a lot of goals, but I don’t think any of us was necessarily expecting that.”

With five first-half goals, however, Cormier accelerated the timetable, and as the game went on his teammates made sure to look for him, which is never a bad idea for the Cavaliers.

“I think on offense, the ‘one mores’ happened to be to me today,” Cormier said, “and I’m grateful for it. I think once [the record] started to get close, everybody wanted to see me get it. They were just putting me in good positions to be able to try to score, and I’m just fortunate that I have really, really great teammates around me that do whatever they can for the team to be successful.”

He tied O’Keefe’s record early in the third quarter, scoring off a pass from freshman McCabe Millon to put the Hoos up 13-6. Cormier broke O’Keefe’s record with 7:56 to play in the third off a pass, fittingly, from All-America attackman Connor Shellenberger.

A fifth-year senior, Shellenberger already held the program record for career assists, and he had five against St. Joseph’s, along with two goals. Shellenberger and Cormier are roommates, and each has been an ideal complement to the other during their UVA careers.

“It certainly helps he has Connor Shellenberger throwing him a lot of those passes,” Tiffany said, “but, man, Payton put the ball in some tiny little spots sometimes. I thought the goalie for Saint Joseph’s was anticipating well where the ball was going, yet Payton still snuck it just between the body and the pipe.”

Cormier’s teammates mobbed him after his record-setting goal. On the sideline, Tiffany was unaware that history had been made. He knew coming into the NCAA tournament that Cormier could surpass O’Keefe, but Tiffany wasn’t keeping track of Cormier’s goals and didn’t understand why UVA’s players were celebrating so fervently.

“I absolutely, honestly, was not thinking about the record today,” Tiffany said, smiling. “It was a shock to me. [UVA players] were running on the field, and I’m like, ‘Get off the field. I know we’re up by seven, but get off the field.’ ”

Cormier is more of a finisher than a dodger and, like many Canadians, rarely shoots with his off hand. He’s not the Cavaliers’ most accomplished rider. None of that has stopped him from achieving greatness in a storied program.

“We keep score for a reason,” Tiffany said. “There’s all these other stats up on that board, but the most important stat is what he does the best, and he’s the best in the nation at it.”

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