May 17, 2009

Billings, Stanwick Exemplify UVA's Unselfishness

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Steele Stanwick's deft feeds set up three of Garrett Billings four goals Sunday in Virginia's 19-8 win over Johns Hopkins in the NCAA quarterfinals.

© Kevin P. Tucker

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Virginia had all the good luck charms of a blushing bride.

Something old (senior attacker Garrett Billings), something new (freshman attacker Steele Stanwick), something borrowed (transfer longpole faceoff specialist Chad Gaudet) and something blue (a shaky Blue Jay defense).

But mostly it was Stanwick and Billings, whose unselfish approach helped spark the Cavaliers to a 19-8 blowout win over Johns Hopkins in the first NCAA Division I men's lacrosse quarterfinal Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

In an offensive explosion featuring six players with multiple goals and a career-high, team-leading five goals from sophomore midfielder Shamel Bratton, it's difficult to pinpoint standouts. But Billings (4g, 3a) and Stanwick (2g, 5a) each put up seven points and exemplified the smooth, unselfish play that lifted the Cavaliers into their second consecutive NCAA semifinal.

"I've had a ton of fun playing with Steele. He finds me all the time, probably more than I find him," said Billings, one of 10 seniors who missed Virginia's graduation ceremony today and will receive their diplomas in a special ceremony Monday.

Stanwick fed Billings on three of his four goals, and Billings returned the favor once. But Stanwick doesn't seem to mind dishing up juicy feeds for his Canadian cohort.

"He's always moving off the ball and he's easy to find. He'll catch it and do something crazy to find the back of the net," said the freshman, whose seven points were a personal best.

The prettiest Billings-Stanwick goal came near the end of the first quarter, when the senior attacker cut across the center to nab an outside feed from Stanwick, then whipped a behind-the-head shot past Blue Jay goalkeeper Mike Gvozden (14 saves) to cap an early 6-1 run that smoothed the way to an easy win. Flashy finishes are textbook Canadian lacrosse, but Billings is so much more than that.

"Billings is a bear off the ball," said Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala, who glowingly praised Virginia's ball movement and team approach to offense.

"That's the strength of their attack. It's not speed and it's not stick work. Those three guys [Billings, Stanwick and senior Danny Glading (2g, 1a)] play well together and they have a very high lacrosse IQ. They knew where the ball was going, and we were just reacting."

Virginia coach Dom Starsia wanted "to keep the pedal pushed down on this game" after his team gave away a lead to barely edge the Blue Jays, 16-15, on March 21, so the scoring continued well into the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers have reached double digits in 16 of their 17 games this season. (The one single-digit game was a crushing 16-5 ACC semifinal loss to Duke on April 24.)

Thus Virginia shows no sign of slowing down as its advances to its NCAA semifinal game against a defensive-minded Cornell team that edged Princeton, 6-4, in Saturday's quarterfinal at Hofstra.

With a foot planted so firmly on the gas pedal, the Big Red might be little more than a speed bump on the way to the Cavaliers' first national championship game since 2006.

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