May 28, 2011

Virginia's Stanwick Enjoys Tewaaraton-Worthy Performance in NCAA Semifinals

by Corey McLaughlin | | NCAA Men's Final Four Blog

Virginia junior attackman Steele Stawnick says his injured right foot is "as good as it's going to get for the season." After his three-goal, two-assist performance Saturday, that means one more game.

© Joe Rogate

BALTIMORE -- If Rob Pannell was the leader in the clubhouse for the men's Tewaaraton Award at the end of regular season, Steele Stanwick is now either leading the pack with three holes to go or at the very least charging up the leaderboard on the back nine.

Stanwick's latest sterling performance -- three goals and two assists -- in Virginia's 14-8 win over Denver Saturday afternoon in the national semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium pushed the junior attackman deeper into the heart of the discussion for taking home the Tewaaraton honors when they are decided after championship weekend.

Pannell, the junior Cornell attackman who was named the USILA's Outstanding Player of the Year and Attackman of the Year on Friday, was thought to be the runaway winner for the Tewaaraton in the middle and late stages of the regular season. He had 42 goals and 47 assists in 17 games, and finished the regular season averaging 0.76 more points per game over the second-highest scorer in the nation.

But if Tewaaraton history is any indication, Stanwick appears to have the edge on Pannell heading into Monday's national championship game. Fair or unfair, only once has the award-winner not participated in the national title game; the lone exception being Hofstra's Doug Shanahan in 2001, the first year the award was handed out.

Perhaps more important, Stanwick has strung together several late-season individual performances -- 25 points in the last four games while still nursing an injured right foot -- and they have coincided with Virginia's late-season turnaround from an 8-5 record, and a run to the title game. The 25 points in that span account for 36-percent of his scoring this season, and includes Virginia's head-to-head win over Pannell's Cornell team in the quarterfinal round.

Why the sudden boost?

Virginia's offensive philosophy has shifted since the twin brothers Shamel and Rhamel Bratton were disciplined for repeated team rules violations leading up to the Penn game April 30. The Brattons haven't played midfield for the Cavaliers since, and game plans shifted to creating offense from behind the net, where Stanwick sets up shop.

"With the personnel changes we had to make, it changed who we were," Stanwick said in the Virginia locker room after the win Saturday. "We're not a team that's really going to dodge as much off the top. So we had to adjust and that's kind of what this team has been doing all year. We've been doing a good job of it since the Penn game.

"We've really emphasized coming from behind the goal a lot more. The team has really bought into that offensive philosophy, and it's been great. We've been executing."

Virginia and Stanwick adjusted further Saturday, playing without usual first midfielder, junior Colin Briggs (coach's decision). Sophomore attackman Matt White took Briggs' spot and inverted to hopefully create favorable matchups for himself and the attack unit. The team also got a surprise hat trick from sophomore attackman Matt Cockerton, who spelled White at times.

Virginia 14, Denver 8

* Virginia Overcomes Another Player Suspension, Advances to NCAA Final

* Stanwick Enjoys Tewaaraton-Worthy Performance in Semifinals

* Blog: Faus Runs Out of Steam

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Maryland 9. Duke 4

* Terps Pound Duke to Delight of Pro-Maryland Crowd

* Maryland Rookie Amato Shows Poise Between the Pipes

* Blog: Maryland On Emotional Ride

* Blog: Why Maryland Will Win It All

But no matter who rotated in, the offense centered on the quarterback Stanwick.

And it has for some time, coach Dom Starsia said.

"As we have retooled offensively here in these last few weeks, what we do now is to share the ball and little bit more and frankly, we also say going into a game that the ball goes to Steele every possession," Starsia said. "The ball goes through his hands every possession, and nobody minds. Everybody understands that we're going to run a meaningful offense when he touches the ball."

On Virginia's first goal-scoring play of the game, Stanwick, standing at "X," caught up Denver defenseman Jeff Brown on the net, forcing Pioneers short-stick midfielder Andrew Lay to cover him. Stanwick darted around the right side for and beat Jamie Faus for the score.

Stanwick scored to put Virginia up 4-1 on a dive/push play running past Brown and beating Faus high. He also fed Chris Bocklet twice for scores and in between scored unassisted to put Virginia up 10-3 early in the second half after Denver scored the first goal of the third quarter.

All the more impressive is that Stanwick said Saturday his injured right foot is still not 100-percent healthy. He suffered a dorsal capsule sprain in the foot in a win at Ohio State March 19, and it's bothered him since. It needs rest to heal.

The foot injury, combined with a severely bruised calf muscle injured while scoring the winning goal April 9 against North Carolina, cause Stanwick to miss several weeks of practice in the middle of the season.

"It's as good as it's going to get for the season," he said of the foot.

Now, that means one more game. And the fact that Stanwick will play in the final game of the season helps his individual award chances. Seven times the Tewaaraton Award winner has been part of the national championship team. Max Seibald (2009) and Matt Danowski (2007) were the two that weren't, and they were on the runner-up. There are no players of their stature in Monday's final, and that one who is among Division I players is sitting at home.

"The job's not done by any means," Stanwick said during the postgame press conference, during which he spent part of the time watching the early minutes of the Maryland-Duke semifinal on a television in the corner of the interview room. "We're all excited and couldn't be happier for the opportunity on Monday."

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