By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He rarely practices these days, though not because he’s channeling Allen Iverson or anything like that. Steele Stanwick would love to be out on the lacrosse field with his UVa teammates during the week.
“I don’t think he sits out of practice by choice,” said senior Bray Malphrus, Virginia’s top long-stick midfielder. “I think it’s more our athletic trainer is sidelining him, and I think he gets into arguments with her daily about practicing. If it were up to him, he’d be out here.”
Stanwick, a junior attackman from Baltimore, hurt his right foot March 19 in the second quarter of UVa’s game against Ohio State. Despite the injury, he finished with four goals and an assist in Virginia’s 14-11 victory.
Since then, he’s spent untold hours with his foot in a walking boot, and at practice Stanwick has had to accept, however reluctantly, a spectactor’s role. But he hasn’t missed a game, and he’s been remarkably productive for seventh-ranked UVa (1-1 ACC, 8-3 overall), which meets the defending NCAA champion, 10th-ranked Duke (2-0, 9-4), at 11 a.m. Saturday in Durham, N.C.
With 44 points, on 23 goals and 21 assists, Stanwick leads the Wahoos in scoring. He’s also a team captain — the only non-senior to be so honored this season — who leads more by example than with fiery speeches.
“I’ve told people, ‘If you only offer me Steele Stanwick on game day — that’s the only day we can have him — I’ll take him and consider myself fortunate,’ ” Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said.
Against Johns Hopkins on March 26, Stanwick totaled three goals and four assists. He had only one point, on a first-quarter goal, versus Maryland on April 2, but he contributed two goals and two assists a week later against North Carolina. Most notably, of course, Stanwick put a shot past UNC goalie Steven Rastivo with 46 seconds left in overtime to give Virginia an 11-10 victory at Klöckner Stadium.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Starsia said. “He’s a lot tougher than he looks. I joke with him all the time. He runs like an old man anyway, so he looks like he’s injured all the way anyway. He clearly is not moving freely in the games, but he’s obviously been effective for us.
“At the end of game on Saturday, he does what you hope he would do and what you expect him to do, which is to kind of take the bull by the horns and make a play for you.”
UVa closes the regular season April 30 against Penn at Klöckner. After that, the ‘Hoos won’t play again until the NCAA tournament starts two weeks later, a break from which Stanwick should benefit enormously. Until then, Virginia’s staff will try to manage the injury as best it can.
“This is sort of a week-to-week thing,” Starsia said. “If he wasn’t a little better every Monday, we would think about shutting him down now. But even though he still can’t practice, he seems to be getting better anyway.
“I would say that every Monday for the last couple of weeks, he’s been a little better than the Monday before, which is why he plays. So we are moving in the right direction.”
Coming out of Loyola Blakefield, a Jesuit school in Towson, Md., Stanwick was considered the No. 1 recruit in the nation’s Class of 2008. He’s done nothing at UVa to make recruiting analysts question their rankings.
As a freshman, he scored 58 points (36 goals and 22 assists) and was named ACC rookie of the year. As a sophomore, Stanwick scored 61 points (29 goals and 32 assists) and was named a second-team All-American. In each season, he helped the ‘Hoos advance to the NCAA semifinals.
At 6-0, 180 pounds, he’s not physically imposing, but Stanwick has extraordinary stick skills, lacrosse IQ and vision. His elegant play evokes memories of Conor Gill, a three-time All-American as a UVa attackman in the early 2000s.
That’s no coincidence.
“Being from Baltimore and growing up watching [Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association lacrosse], Conor Gill was one of those guys I admired from high school when he was playing at St. Paul’s,” Stanwick said. “When he came to UVa, he was my favorite player. I would watch all the UVa games that I could and try to model my game after his. I just loved the way he played the game, and everything about his game really caught my eye, and I tried to learn as much as I could.”
Until Stanwick arrived on Grounds, Starsia said, “I would have said Conor had the best hands and the best eyes of anybody we’ve had. Conor didn’t have exceptional quickness, but he was able to separate with his eyes and hands, and Steele’s in that same category.
“He’s not the best athlete we have, but his ability to change direction and use both hands equally as well, and his uncanny knack for seeing the field and anticipating things happening, are skills that I would associate with Conor and Steele. I’m not sure anyone else is in that club right.”
Another role model for Stanwick was Ben Rubeor, a Loyola Blakefield graduate who preceded him at UVa. Rubeor, an attackman, was a three-time All-American for Starsia and ranks seventh in career scoring at Virginia with 212 points.
Rubeor was a senior in college when Stanwick was a senior in high school, so they never played together. “But you never stopped hearing about Ben Rubeor, whether it was at Loyola or here at UVa,” Stanwick said. “I pretty much heard every legendary story about him coming into Loyola and here, and when I finally met him on my recruiting visit, he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He was one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”
To say that Stanwick slept with a lacrosse stick in his cradle as a boy might be an exaggeration, but he’s been around the sport for as long as he can remember. He has seven siblings, all of whom play (or played) lax.
“We pretty much fit that stereotype of the Baltimore lacrosse family,” Stanwick said with a smile.
His three older sisters were All-Americans at Georgetown. His older brother played at Rutgers. Steele’s younger sister is a Boston College recruit, and his brother Wells will play at Johns Hopkins. The youngest of the Stanwick siblings, Shack, is a freshman at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore, and “I’m sure he’ll play [in college] too,” Steele said.
In his 19 seasons at Virginia, Starsia has coached 14 attackmen who have been named first-, second- or third-team All-America at least once, including Stanwick. Most of the others, though, were more interested in scoring that Stanwick often seems to be.
“If things are going OK and he happens not to be involved as much, or not to be as much in the score sheet, I don’t think that fazes him at all,” Starsia said. “At the same time, there are times when I need him to step up.
“Really, really good offensive players, of which he is one, are often a little bit more selfish than he is. So he can be a little bit selfless to a fault, perhaps. But if that’s the worst thing I can say about you, things are going pretty good.”
You may never hear the Cavaliers’ Hall of Fame coach say a bad word about No. 6. Starsia’s twin daughters, Maggie and Emma, adore Stanwick, and their father is a big fan, too.
“The joy of what I do for a living is that I get to work with young men like Steele Stanwick,” Starsia said. “It means as much off the field, and with the person he is, as the fact that he happens also to be a very good lacrosse player.
“On every level, he’s a great kid. He epitomizes everything that you’d hope to find in a student-athlete. If there was a poster boy for the University of Virginia student-athlete, Steele’s picture could be there.”