New York Atlas midfielder Xander Dickson

Xander Dickson ‘so freaking pumped’ to reunite with Connor Shellenberger on Atlas

By Lauren Merola | May 27, 2024

Connor Shellenberger and the Virginia Cavaliers fell to the Maryland Terrapins 12-6 in the NCAA semifinal on Saturday. Following the loss, Shellenberger will report to PLL training camp in Albany, N.Y., which began Saturday. 

There, he’ll be greeted by a familiar face.

“I am so freaking pumped,” Xander Dickson said. “I cannot wait.”

Dickson, a 2023 graduate of Virginia, will reunite with Shellenberger in a different shade of blue on the New York Atlas for the 2024 season. The two overlapped in Charlottesville, Va., from 2020 to 2023, though Shellenberger did not see game action during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.

Shellenberger was the Atlas’ top pick at No. 2 overall in the 2024 PLL College Draft.

During this NCAA tournament run, he became the all-time tournament leader in points, passing Gary Gait with his 67th point on Saturday. Shellenberger also graduates from Virginia as the program record holder in career assists and points.

He finished his Cavaliers career with a total of 131 goals and 192 assists.

This season, the Virginia captain scored 32 goals and had 52 assists. Shellenberger is a 2024 Tewaaraton Award finalist, with the winner set to be announced May 30.

It was a stat line so padded it put the four-year starter in the center of a long-winded debate about who – he or Duke attackman Brennan O’Neill – would be picked first in the 2024 draft. And that, Dickson said, made him nervous as someone who wanted to once more share the field with Shellenberger.

“I remember realizing we had that pick and then watching Connor be amazing this year and thinking, ‘Oh my god, he’s almost being too amazing,’” Dickson said. “We talked every day about it and just to watch it on draft night come to fruition [was a dream].”

Dickson wasn’t the only one enraptured to see the Denver Outlaws pass on Shellenberger and take O’Neill with the No. 1 pick. He said Atlas head coach and general manager Mike Pressler had “been excited for months” about the possibility of landing the UVA standout. 

“[Shellenberger] would’ve been happy to go No. 1,” Dickson said, “but he really wanted to be on the Atlas and play for Mike Pressler and with myself again. We just had so much fun and such good chemistry and shared many things in common that we also share with Pressler.”

Those joint values are headlined by two of Pressler’s most spoken words during the lacrosse season: competitive spirit.

“We always say that the No. 1 most important quality is that competitive spirit,” Dickson said. “Everyone’s great at this level, but what makes a difference is being willing to be scrappy and gritty and have the chip on your shoulder.

“We might miss the net, we might not make a save, but we will not be outworked and we will not be outcompeted.”

We as in the Atlas. We as in the Cavaliers.

Pressler also picked up 2024 Virginia alum and attackman Payton Cormier, who tied the program's single-game record with eight goals in Virginia’s NCAA first-round win over Saint Joseph’s. Cormier, the all-time leading goal-scorer in Division I, was claimed by the Atlas after going undrafted.

New York continues to build a team of young talent in hopes of reversing its 2-8 record from 2023. The Atlas open up Week 1 with two games in their new hometown territory when they play the Boston Cannons on June 1 and the Maryland Whipsnakes on June 2 in Albany, N.Y.