July 14, 2011

Pannell, Starsia Relish Red-Carpet Crusade at ESPYs

by Mark Medina | LaxMagazine.com

Cornell attackman Rob Pannell (left) and Virginia head coach Dom Starsia pause for a photo together Wednesday at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. Though neither won in his category, their nominations are another sign of the sport's upward trajectory in mainstream circles.

© Vincent Briedis/UVA Media Relations

LOS ANGELES -- Strolling down the red carpet, Virginia men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia and Cornell junior attackman Rob Pannell turned everywhere for tangible reminders on how much different this is from home.

They heard it with countless fans shouting giddily over pop singer Justin Bieber walking the same carpet hours before the ESPY Awards started Wednesday at Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles. They felt it with Southern California's comfortably warm temperatures contrasting the humidity Starsia tolerates in Charlottesville, Va., and the blizzards Pannell survives in Ithaca, N.Y.

And they saw it as two well-known lacrosse figures quickly became anonymous in the midst of NBA and NFL players giving scores of interviews mostly centering on the leagues' prolonged lockout.

"This is all kind of unbelievable," Starsia said. "This is all a little bit of a fantasy."

But it wasn't. It was real.

Starsia and Pannell were in Los Angeles because both received ESPY nominations, and both expressed equal amounts of surprise.

Starsia remembered feeling "disbelief" when he learned his role in guiding the Cavaliers to his fourth national championship earned him a nomination for best coach with Connecticut's men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, Auburn football coach Gene Chizik and Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Pannell acknowledged feeling "shocked" when he learned that finishing as the Division I attackman of the year landed him a nomination for best male college athlete along with Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette, Connecticut guard Kemba Walker, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Miam-Ohio forward Andy Miele.

Starsia and Pannell quickly switched from giddiness to self-deprecation when assessing their chances of actually winning the award.

"I don't think they're very good," Pannell said. "I think the football and basketball population certainly overcrowds the lacrosse population. But it's incredible to be here."

And that's exactly why this moment proved special for reasons beyond Pannell attending an ESPYs party hosted by tennis star Serena Williams and Starsia joking this might help his recruiting efforts in California. Their ESPY nominations perfectly reflected lacrosse's evolution. Pannell and Starsia lost their respective awards to Carlisle and Fredette, but their nominations illustrated that lacrosse has continued gaining exposure without altering the mainstream sports landscape. "It speaks to the direction that lacrosse is going," Starsia said.

Starsia was the first to point out there are more significant factors increasing the sport's growth, such as the University of Denver reaching this year's final four, the University of Michigan adding Division I lacrosse and ESPN's networks routinely televising both regular season and playoff games. The ESPY nominations Starsia and Pannell received aren't an isolated part of that growth. They were in California, after all, a state that according to the 2010 US Lacrosse participation survey features the fifth-highest youth lacrosse population (21,333) in the country. That's why Starsia sees California as the next "hotbed," as indicated by the emergence of St. Ignatius Prep product Rob Emery as a top scoring threat for the Cavaliers last season and Pannell's acknowledgement that he has worked summer camps in San Francisco.

"It shows how fast the sport is growing," Pannell said. "Going forward, I think it's going to help it."

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