March 10, 2011

Stanwick, Pannell Perfect Fits for Their Teams

by Mark Medina |

Cornell junior Rob Pannell, the reigning USILA Attackman of the Year, draws motivation from being snubbed as a recruit. "You look back at the people in high school and see the people being recruited over you," he said. "It's always in the back of your mind."

© Dave Burbank

They're similar, yet so different.

Virginia junior attackman Steele Stanwick and Cornell junior attackman Rob Pannell share a bond as captains and engineers of heavy-loaded offenses. Yet, Stanwick reached that destination as a top-ranked recruit out of Loyola Blakefield (Md.) High School while Pannell attended Deerfield (Mass.) Academy hoping an extra year of high school would attract more attention.

They both talk about building off impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, but in different ways. Stanwick wants to build off his 2009 ACC Rookie of the Year honor his freshman season and his team-leading 32 assists his sophomore season by becoming equally dangerous at scoring. Pannell wants to follow his 2009 Ivy League Rookie of the Year award his freshman year and Ivy League Player of the Year, first-team All-American and USILA Attackman of the Year honors his sophomore season by providing to his teammates a stronger balance of positive reinforcement and strict accountability.

The Cavaliers (5-1) and Big Red (2-1) match up Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore with the two attackmen likely providing more clarity on who's the better player. Pannell averages a Division I-leading 5.67 points per game. Stanwick ranks third (5.2). Or it might just provide more examples on how the players are simply different.

That's why it's not surprising the reactions are just as conflicting.

Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who concedes Pannell as stronger and more athletic than Stanwick, addresses the issue as one he'd rather avoid.

"I wouldn't answer that question in a million years," Starsia says. "I would answer it by saying that I'm blessed to have Steele Stanwick on my team."

Cornell coach Ben DeLuca embraces the opportunity to laud his star player.

"It's my job as his coach to advocate for him.," DeLuca says. "If he's not the best, he's one of the best."

Stanwick and Pannell don't shy away from the topic, providing equal time complimenting each other and reaching similar conclusions. But they do it in different ways.

Stanwick holds his cards tight.

"We're pretty similar in our passing games," he says. "We do two different things for the offense. I think [Pannell] has to take it more upon himself. I think he does a great job with that and gets his teammates involved. With our midfielders, especially with our first line, I feel like I can sit back a little bit."

Meanwhile, Pannell shares his hand.

"[Stanwick's] very similar in that we both feed," Pannell says. "He may have a slightly better shot than me. He certainly has a very accurate shot from what I've seen and can shoot it from the outside. But I'd say maybe I'm a little more aggressive than he is dodging to the cage. But I think the offensive system I'm in allows me to do that. He's got a lot of players around him, which are very aggressive dodgers and are great athletes at Virginia that we don't have here."

The comparisons spark debate, but it also adds greater appreciation for the similarities and differences both Stanwick and Pannell provide for their respective teams.

"Stanwick is perfect for Virginia and Pannell is perfect for Cornell," says ESPN analyst and former All-American Syracuse midfielder Paul Carcaterra, who tabs Stanwick as a better shooter, Pannell as a better dodger and both as equally strong feeders. "If you were to flip flop them, both teams would probably lose a little bit. I don't mean lose anything in regards to winning games, but their identity as an offense."

There's little debate that Stanwick and Pannell prove largely instrumental on their respective teams. But again, in different ways.

It starts with their roles.

Virginia junior Steele Stanwick was once the nation's top recruit, but said he was able to ease into his role with the Cavaliers thanks to the bevy of talent surrounding him.

© Jim Daves

Stanwick, who leads Virginia in points (27) and assists (14), quarterbacks an offense that boasts a second-ranked 15.4 goals per game. His approach entails making everyone around him comfortable through feeding, including eight of those assists distributed to Chris Bocklet's team-leading 18 goals.

"I'm always a guy who likes to get my teammates involved before I get myself involved," Stanwick says. "I like to let the game come to me in the sense that I don't want to force the issue too early."

Pannell, whose team-leading 17 points, nine assists and eight goals earned Ivy League Player of the Week honors, runs an offense that doesn't have a definitive second option, leaving to him to make sure everyone falls in line.

"Everybody looks at me as a feeder and a guy who can set up people and make the right pass. But I think I want to be a dual threat," says Pannell, who adds he devoted most of the offseason by sharpening his shooting. "I've shown I can score, but not to the extent I want it to be."

It includes their leadership styles.

Starsia says he's often instructed Stanwick to become more assertive on offense, even if it means deviating from his feeding role, a piece of advice Stanwick says he also supports.

"He's so selfless that we actually needed him to be more selfish," Starsia says. "We've actually had to lean on him a little bit to come harder for his own and he's starting to do that. He's gotten a little stronger and more confident. He's become a little bit more physical player."

DeLuca cites countless examples where Pannell embraced his leadership role, being the first to practice, film sessions and even to congratulate DeLuca when he got the Cornell coaching job after Jeff Tramboni left for Penn State.

Meanwhile, Pannell faults himself for being too intense with teammates.

"He's one of the greatest competitors that I had a chance to be around," DeLuca says. "He wants to win at everything he does, whether it's a drill, a one-on-one ground ball, man-up or man-down, whatever it may be, and that's contagious. But he wants to do it in the right way. He's not going to be selfish about it."

The paths Stanwick and Pannell took to stardom differ, as well.

Stanwick expresses relief that the attention as a top-ranked recruit didn't come with expectations to carry a team. With the likes of the Bratton twins, Garrett Billings and Danny Glading surrounding him, Stanwick joyfully deferred.

"They draw so much attention," says Stanwick, who played  left wing his freshman year before moving behind the cage his sophomore season. "It was a nice transition, because there wasn't as much pressure on me."

Pannell entered his freshman season eager to prove he deserved more scholarship offers than the ones he got from Towson and Quinnipiac. Once Max Seibald graduated, Pannell took pride in carrying the mantle.

"You look back at the people in high school and see the people being recruited over you," Pannell says. "It's always in the back of your mind. At this point, I think I've proven I can be that player, and I'm continuing to work hard to get to that next step."

There are similarities between Stanwick and Pannell, too.

Each seems to be his own harshest critic. Stanwick begins an interview lamenting the Cavaliers' loss last week to Syracuse, while Pannell immediately dissects the team's poor communication and his poor shooting in the Big Red's loss last week to Army.

Both remain the primary focus of defensive preparations. Starsia remains uncertain how the Cavaliers will "manage the matchup" in guarding Pannell, noting their inexperienced defensive unit will have to worry more about limiting his influence on the game than his overall production. DeLuca has stressed a similar mantra, saying his underclassman-heavy defensive unit must worry more about "containing" Stanwick than shutting him down.

And both players remain intrigued about the debate over whether they're the country's best attackman, even if they say the topic neither consumes nor drives them.

"It's awesome to even be mentioned in the same sentence with Rob and even be considered with that," Stanwick says. "To be considered for that is awesome. Words can't describe it. It means a great deal to me."

"I know a lot of people compare us in that junior group," Pannell says. "I'd like to get a chance to meet [Stanwick] some day."

They will meet Saturday, two QB-type players leading the way, each with the potential to bring his team back to M&T Bank Stadium in May.

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