Xander Dickson went from transfer portal to UVA record books
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- A few years ago Xander Dickson had little expectations of starting on the attack line for UVA much less setting the program record for goals in a single season, but all that came with patience.
Less than three minutes into Virginia's 17-8 win over Richmond to advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals, Dickson scored to break Doug Knight's single-season goals record set in 1996. Fellow attackmen Payton Cormier and Connor Shellenberger drew Dickson's attention to the milestone, but the redshirt senior did not fully embrace the moment till after the game.
"Afterwards I had a moment with my dad and some people close to me that were just like 'this is crazy man, you've come a long way'," Dickson said, the youngest of four siblings who all played college lacrosse, "My brothers were like there's been a lot of good players there how is our little brother sitting atop that record right now."
Following the pandemic shortened season in 2020, Dickson entered the transfer portal in search of greener pastures for playing time.
"Sort of the epiphany that I had when I was in the portal was if I'd be able to stand here right now and be a big player for the program," Dickson said, "That was daunting at the time because I got the call Matt Moore and Ian Laviano were coming back and they were some of my best buddies and I was happy for them, but I can't out-compete these guys, these guys are really good players."
In the age of the transfer portal, head coach Lars Tiffany has taken a stance which even surprises him, encouraging players to take a look at what is available in the portal and also leaving the door open for a return.
"Those were some dark days, Xander, Payton Cormier," Tiffany said, "We've said it's okay to jump in there and see if the grass is greener on the other side, kick some tires and that's okay and you can come back."
The process took two months with a bevy of schools showing interest, but Xander returned despite the logjam of All-Americans at Virginia making up the attack.
"Xander's playing better than he has, he's continued to get better, but it's not like he came out of nowhere," Tiffany said, "He's been doing this in practice, he was just stuck behind Matt Moore and Ian Laviano, some exceptional lacrosse players."
Over the next two seasons, Dickson saw playing time in the midfield tallying 39 points as a redshirt junior. Tiffany said coaches would ask about the Cavaliers' No. 10 constantly, even with standouts like Moore, Shellenberger and Cormier.
"There would be days in practice or certain games, you'd be like Xander why is he not playing more or how is he not having a bigger impact on this offense," Connor Shellenberger said, "Once he made that move down to attack, you could really see him start to explode."
The biggest question facing the Cavaliers entering this season was who would replace Matt Moore in attack, but Dickson quickly erased any doubt ranking fourth nationally in goals (currently at 58).
"I think the world of Xander Dickson, so him coming to this kind of peak in his career is no surprise to me," assistant coach Sean Kirwan, "I just think it was one of those things where he needed to realize how good he could be."
Dickson competed with Griffin Schutz and Truitt Sunderland for the final spot in attack, but eventually his fit alongside Shellenberger and Cormier became all too apparent.
"We didn't know who was getting that third spot for awhile and playing the first couple weeks of the season we were still trying to figure that out," Dickson said, "For me personally I've always sort of adapted and try to be a chameleon like wherever there's an opening fill that."
In a day where players are quick to jump, Dickson wants his story to be the example of staying where your feet are.
"What if I can come back, what if I can get a starting role and be the player I know I can be at UVA, it would be a lot more rewarding," Dickson said, "And I'm really glad and I hope kids see that and think they can go in the portal and look around, but it's really a gratitude thing and rewarding to be able to say I stuck it out and I tried my hardest and it paid off."