June 2, 2011

Stanwick Edges Pannell, Others for Tewaaraton Award

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

A clean-shaven Steele Stanwick, minus the playoff scruff, poses with the Tewaaraton Award and coach Dom Starsia at the Warner Theatre on Thursday. Stanwick, a junior, became the third University of Virginia player to win the award.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Steele Stanwick punctuated an unlikely Virginia men's lacrosse national championship run and a late-season Tewaaraton Award campaign by taking home the greatest individual award in college lacrosse Thursday night at the Warner Theatre.

The Cavaliers junior attackman won the Tewaaraton men's honor over finalists Rob Pannell (Cornell), Jeremy Boltus (Army), John Galloway (Syracuse) and Joel White (Syracuse).

"Wow," Stanwick said on stage upon receiving the award, before thanking the University Club of Washington, D.C., his parents, the Virginia coaching staff and teammates. "This has been a great ride. The season has been amazing, and this is icing on the cake. I'm humbled to even be up here even mentioned with these guys."

Stanwick and women's Tewaaraton winner Shannon Smith were presented their awards by National Hall of Famer and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who was at the ceremony to accept the first-ever Tewaaraton Legends award. Going forward, this award will be presented to one recipient each year that played collegiate lacrosse prior to 2001 and whose performance would have earned him or her a Tewaaraton Award had the preeminent honor existed.

Stanwick is the first junior to win the men's award since its inception in 2001, and the second non-senior. Syracuse's Mikey Powell won as a sophomore in 2002, then again as a senior in 2004.

Pannell, the junior Cornell attackman, appeared to be the frontrunner for the award at the end of the regular season, leading the nation in points per game by a wide margin and helping the Big Red to the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Division I men's tournament. But Virginia — with an offense admittedly running through Stanwick every possession, according to coach Dom Starsia — rallied from an 8-5 record to win five straight games and the Cavaliers' fifth national title.

Stanwick finished the season with a team-high 70 points on 32 goals and 38 assists, with 37 percent of his scoring (26 points) coming during Virginia's season-ending five-game win streak that began April 30 against Penn. The streak included a head-to-head win over Cornell in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

Stanwick had 21 points in four NCAA tournament games, even with being held to one assist in Virginia's 9-7 victory over Maryland on Memorial Day. He managed the offense, which had unlikely heroes emerge in timely fashion, such as when Colin Briggs scored five goals in the championship game or reserve Mark Cockerton scored three in the semifinal win over Denver.

"I think Steele is going to win," Pannell said before the ceremony Thursday. "With the playoffs that he had and the run they put together, Virginia winning the national championship, generally this award goes to someone who is in the final four or on that national championship team. I think the postseason he put together -- he had 21 points -- is just unbelievable."

Stanwick, also asked beforehand who he thought would win, said: "I don't know. I would not want to be the one to make the decision."

When all was said and done, Stanwick finished the year fourth in the nation in points per game (4.12). Pannell was first (5.24), Drexel's Scott Perri second (4.71) and Boltus third (4.60).

From left, Tewaaraton Award finalists Joel White, Steele Stanwick, Rob Pannell, John Galloway and Jeremy Boltus pause for a photo opportunity during an autograph session.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

"As we have retooled offensively here in these last few weeks, what we do now is to share the ball a little bit more and, frankly, we also say going into a game that the ball goes to Steele every possession," Starsia said after Virginia's semifinal win over Denver Saturday. "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."

Virginia turned its attention to creating offense from the behind the net — where Stanwick sets up shop and is able to run off picks and use his uncanny vision and feeding ability — after midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton were dismissed and indefinitely suspended, respectively, from the team in the week leading up to the Penn game. The revamped offense, along with timely improvements from a rare Virginia zone defense, carried the Cavs to the title.

"With the personnel changes we had to make, it changed who we were," Stanwick said in the Virginia locker room after the Denver win. "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 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."

Stanwick executed personally while nursing a season-long injury, a strained right foot injured way back against Ohio State in March. Stanwick said after Virginia's win over Denver in the national semifinals that the injury – a dorsal capsule sprain – is "as good as it's going to get this season," and only rest could heal it. That is, to say, it bothered him all season.

Stanwick also missed about a month of practice time in the middle of the season while recovering from a severely strained calf muscle injured on his game-winning overtime goal against North Carolina April 9.

"Certainly Steele getting healthier helped," Starsia said in explaining Virginia's run to the title.

Virginia has the most men's Tewaaraton Award winners (three) since the award's inception in 2001. Matt Ward won in 2006 and Chris Rotelli in 2003. Those two and Stanwick were all members of national championship teams.

"It'd be awesome," Stanwick said before the ceremony Thursday when asked what winning the award would mean to him. "It's what all of us dream of when you're growing up, to be a finalist and to win the award. It's an honor just to be here, to even have a chance at winning it."

Said Starsia: "Anyone that knows enough about lacrosse to appreciate somebody's skill level would say that this kid has really special skills. He has great hands and great eyes. Those are his physical skills. But he's also just a great kid. His real skill is making the people around him better. ... When you have somebody like that, that point guard that lifts everybody, you know if you move smartly you're going to get the ball back to a better spot. He's one of those rare athletes that impacts all the people around him."

The University Club Foundation also presented the 2011 Outstanding Native American High School Scholarships to Kristiana Ferguson of the Tuscarora Nation and Christopher White of the Oneida Nation. Ferguson will attend Syracuse University, and White plans to play lacrosse at Sienna College in the fall.

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