Steele Stanwick graduated from the University of Virginia in May as one of its all-time great players, a three-time All-American, the 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy winner and national champion and the Cavaliers' all-time leader with 269 points. With Stanwick's pro career just starting with Major League Lacrosse's Ohio Machine, IL writer Caroline Darney looks back at his impressive college experience.
Every spring a handful of highly touted lacrosse recruits step foot onto the field with their whole careers in front of them. Some see playing time, some become stars, and some hit the record books.
Then there is Steele Stanwick. Standing an unassuming 6-foot, 190 lbs., he is one of eight children in an exceptionally talented family of lacrosse stars. At Loyola-Blakefield High School, Stanwick set a school record 231 career points (123G, 108A), earning him two All-American nods, a spot in the Under Armour All-American game, and the title ofInside Lacrosse's No. 1 recruit in the country.
Steele entered the first-year class at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2008, joining a Cavalier squad that won the national championship in 2006 and reached the semifinals that previous spring. Immediately, Stanwick made his mark on the lacrosse field, notching two goals and two assists in the season-opener against Drexel. Stanwick cruised through the rest of the season, scoring 36 goals and dishing 22 assists en route to being named the ACC Rookie of the Year and setting a University of Virginia freshman points record (58). Steele tied a career high four goals in his first ACC matchup, a win against Maryland that was memorable for many reasons.
“We've played in a lot of cool games [in my career]...for me, the first one I think of is my freshman year against Maryland when we went into 7OT,” Stanwick says. “I think that one stands out purely based on history.”
As a first-year player, Stanwick was fortunate to be surrounded by a plethora of experienced leaders, who quickly became role models for the blossoming attackman.
“When I was a freshman,” Steele said in a recent interview. “I had guys like Danny Glading, Max Pomper, Mikey Thompson, Ken Clausen and Mike Timms as role models, just to name a few. Those guys were really great leaders and I don't think anyone was a big talker. I thought they were great leaders in the way they showed it on the field. I always looked up to them because that's what a great leader does...leads by example.”
His sophomore season, Stanwick built on his initial success, finishing second on the team with 61 points (29G, 32A) and found his go-to-guy in fellow sophomore attackman Chris Bocklet. The postseason awards continued to pile up for Steele, who nabbed himself a spot on the All-ACC, All-ACC Tournament and All-NCAA Championship Teams, while earning recognition as a USILA second-team All-American.
Coaches all around the league began to realize what Virginia head coach Dom Starsia had always known.
“Steele was not nearly the biggest, fastest, quickest, or the most athletic attackman in recent memory … although he was more athletic than people gave him credit for,” Starsia said via email. “However, he may be the best-skilled and smartest attackman I have ever had the great joy to witness. His ability to shoot with both hands, to throw a catchable ball and to anticipate plays unfolding was uncanny. He has Jeff Long's hands and Darren Lowe's or Conor Gill's eyes.”
Entering his third year, Stanwick and the Cavaliers were named No. 2 in the Inside Lacrosse preseason polls, a ranking they lived up to until losing four of their last six games of the regular season. Within that stretch, Stanwick missed Virginia's regular-season matchup with Duke because of a foot injury, a game the Wahoos lost by a narrow margin of 13-11. While many critics and fans at that point had written off Virginia, Stanwick and his fellow captains led a revamped squad to a convincing 11-2 win over Penn and a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia faced upstart Bucknell in the first round and found themselves down 10-6 late in the third quarter. Stanwick, proceeded to take part in six of the last seven goals of the game, scoring the game tying goal and assisting the overtime winner, in what was one of the most exciting college lacrosse games in recent history. Steele finished with three goals and five assists, and the Cavalier victory appeared to breathe new life into the squad.
The junior came alive in the Cavaliers' subsequent march to the NCAA Championship, rattling off six goals and six assists in the quarterfinal and semifinal match-ups against Cornell and Denver. The University of Virginia won its fifth national championship in a 9-7 victory over the University of Maryland, in a game where red-hot Stanwick notched only one assist.
His contributions to the game, however, far exceeded what the stat line showed, essentially neutralizing Maryland's top defenseman while quarterbacking the Virginia offense and creating a lasting memory for the attackman.
“I think to have that success with your 40 best friends and your three coaches,” Stanwick said. “That's something you're going to remember forever.”
Coach Starsia agrees with his star and considers the 2011 national championship one of Steele's greatest accomplishments in his four years at Virginia: “While he had a injured foot and was the focal point of every opponent's preparation, he adjusted his own role and molded the people around him into a unit that won a championship under the most unlikely of circumstances.”
Stanwick finished the season All-ACC, ACC Player of the Year, a member of the All-NCAA Championship Team, and a USILA first-team All-American. On top of all that, he finished the year with 32 goals and 38 assists for 70 points, and his postseason performance combined with his regular-season consistency earned him the Tewaraaton Trophy.
Going into his senior season, Stanwick and the Cavaliers were in position to repeat as national champions, a feat Virginia had never achieved. Dubbed one of the most prolific passers in recent lacrosse history, Stanwick's ability to slice and dice opposing defenses made him extremely difficult to guard. Double-team him and he will find the open man; leave him alone and he'll take his defender to the cage. In the win over Stony Brook on Feb. 25, 2012, Steele broke the 100 career goals and 100 career assists plateau, becoming only the third Cavalier and 44th player nationally to join the century club. He then went on to break the Virginia career points record in a loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, eventually eclipsing the mark of 249 points set by Doug Knight from 1994-97.
Stanwick's 29 goals and 51 assists in his senior campaign brought his career total to 269 points, with his 126 career goals landing him seventh and his 143 assists earning him fourth in the Virginia lacrosse record books.
“Getting to the points record at UVa. was pretty special for me just because I grew up loving Virginia lacrosse so much and there are so many good players that have played there.,” he says. “[It is] something I am proud of. Also, I couldn't have gotten to those points without every one of the people I've played with.”
After beating Princeton in a defensive battle in the opening round, the Cavaliers exited the 2012 NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinals with a 12-10 loss to Notre Dame, ending their season with a 12-4 record. Stanwick repeated as ACC Player of the Year and as a first team All-American, while also receiving the Turnbull Award, given to the top collegiate attackman. Stanwick was also a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award and the 2012 Tewaraaton Trophy.
Despite the laundry list of tangible awards that have highlighted Stanwick's stellar career, his most impressive achievements cannot be measured by statistics or box scores. His humility and respect for the game is apparent in every play, and his dedication evident in every practice. After every game in Charlottesville, young fans would flock to the sidelines in their No. 6 jerseys hoping for an autograph from 'SS6', and rarely did anyone leave disappointed.
According to Starsia, one of the biggest losses Virginia will suffer next season is Steele's selfless leadership: “Is he the greatest player in UVa's long, illustrious history? Maybe. Is he the most modest, thoughtful and understated 'Great Player' in my 38-year coaching history in the game? Probably. He set a great example on a daily basis and made my job a lot easier.”
As a member of the Virginia Lacrosse team, Stanwick and his teammates have also given back to the Charlottesville community through multiple charity organizations. Former Cavalier defenseman Ken Clausen's Lacrosse Mustache Madness has earned around $200,000 in its first three years, with the Virginia squad participating annually. The Will Barrow Memorial Football Tournament, started by UVa. midfielder Max Pomper, has succeeded in raising thousands of dollars over the past three years for the UVa. HELP Line, a non-profit, student run, crisis hotline. On top of that, Starsia and the players volunteer every year at the Charlottesville Special Olympics Pepsi 10K, a cause close to the head coach's heart.
“I have 27-year-old 'special needs' twin daughters,” Starsia wrote in an email. “One of the most profound things I can say about Steele is that he is one of the girls's all-time favorite guys and they have no appreciation that he is any good as a player. They love him simply for who he is and for the generous and loving spirit he brings to their relationship.”
When it comes to future plans, Stanwick is still figuring it all out and taking everything in stride: “I'm kind of all over the place. I've been thinking about sponsorships and coaching...[I'm just] weighing my options right now. Lacrosse has given me so much and its hard to let it go and I don't think I'm ready to let it go right now. Only time will tell.”
As for right now, the recent graduate is two games (and eight points) into his Major League Lacrosse career with the Ohio Machine, after being drafted second overall in the Collegiate Draft and missing time in early June because of lingering injuries.
For those up-and-coming lacrosse stars out there, take it from Steele. The key to success is simple.
“Wall ball is a big part of maturing your game and getting better, especially as a young guy. If you can get on the wall for 20 minutes a day, everything else will follow.” Steele recommends. “Wallball and watching as much lacrosse as possible.”
If the fans and sport are lucky, that lacrosse will include Steele Stanwick for many years to come.