-- Steele Stanwick. We'll always have Maryland. And a Tewaaraton Trophy and a national championship and so on. I started following UVA lacrosse for actual serious during the 2006 title run, when I discovered you could actually watch the game on TV. So my qualifications in speaking intelligently about the talents of players before then are awfully limited. That said, Stanwick is the best UVA lacrosse player I've seen since then.
This blog is approaching its fourth birthday, which means that I've had the pleasure of watching, and chronicling, Stanwick's career from start to finish. The first time I ever wrote the name "Stanwick" on these pages, here's what I had to say:
With a name like Steele Stanwick, your life is pretty well cut out for you before you even start. Hotshot lacrosse player at a prestigious East Coast school - check (and if he doesn't live up to the potential he's displayed so far, it'll be the greatest waste of a terrific name since Majestic Mapp landed on his knee funny.) ... And by the way, I'm still trying to figure out what rathole his second goal (team's sixth) wormed through before it found the back of the net.
Consider that potential achieved. As a freshman, Stanwick was overshadowed, as is typical, by the upperclassmen - that year's senior class including Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, outstanding players in their own right. Stanwick carved himself out a place on the starting attack, though, and displayed an otherworldly ability to fit the ball into tiny places. That skill morphed into pinpoint passing and shooting at all times, and the ability to score goals nobody else could. Like while laying on the ground being assaulted by two Maryland defenders. Or while standing on the goal line-extended, 15 yards from the net, as the goalie came out to double-team.
-- Teamwork goals. UVA's passing this year was excellent. Two years ago, and during most of last year, I watched in frustration as UVA's offense was shut down as it devolved into a bunch of individuals trying and failing to dodge a defender. I described the offensive philosophy as "try a move, fail, pass to someone else to see if he can make a move, fail, pass to someone else to see if he can make a move, fail, repeat." Passing was only done because you couldn't get around your man this time.
This year, things were a lot more fun to watch, even when we were losing. This is largely an extension of the Stanwick bullet, because he found Chris Bocklet for more than a few beautiful goals. Matt White pulled off his share, though, too. In the past, fewer than half our goals were assisted; this year, that rose to just slightly under two-thirds. This kind of offense is much more sustainable, much less susceptible to a bad game. Not totally bulletproof, as we'll see later, but better.
-- Faceoffs. You did not just say that. Yes I did. NO. YES DAMMIT. Faceoffs, believe it or not, were a strength for this team sometimes. And when not a strength, at least not a crippling, soul-rending weakness. At no time this season - not even during the Princeton game when we actually were getting killed at the X - did I assume that a faceoff would automatically go to the other team. Big change from previous years. Ryan Benincasa did good work here, and freshman Mick Parks showed enough for us to believe he'll be a major asset in the future.
-- The SSDMs. Chris LaPierre is Chris LaPierre. An automatic clear, and by the way, a damn good defender when his arm isn't hanging from his torso by its tendons. (A separated shoulder limited him somewhat at the end of the season.) And I will tell you what else, Bobby Hill is the most-improved player from season's start to season's end. Hill and LaPierre made a great combo in the second half, and when Shocker had to miss the Penn game, Chris Clements also did a nice job in relief, picking up the short stick that he had to put down two years ago.
-- Midfield shooting. Opponents learned that if they left the shooting lanes open from the midfield, they'd pay the price in goals allowed. Colin Briggs has always been a savvy player with sleeper skills, and Ryan Tucker and Rob Emery displayed unstoppable howitzer shots when given "time and room."
-- Rob Fortunato. Admit it: you thought Fortunato might be up to the task but worried about how he'd handle the rigors of the full time job. I know you thought this because we were like a hive mind on this one. Everyone thought this. Fortunato proved to be even better than Adam Ghitelman in the stopping-of-shots department, and more than one loss was lamented with "Fortunato kept us in it but the offense gave up the ball too much." An excellent season, and now I know what you're thinking again because the hive mind wishes he was coming back for another year.
-- One-dimensional offense. I didn't like the one-dimensional offense of years past that relied too much on the dodging skills of the ballcarrier, and this year's version was better.... but still too stoppable. This year, we didn't have enough dodgers. I'll tell you what this team could've used more than anything else: the junior-year version of Shamel Bratton. There wasn't one single player who could consistently create scoring chances for himself, which allowed defenses to cheat away from the ballcarrier and take away passing lanes instead.
-- Poor off-ball defense. This year's defense was a little above average, I guess. Not really a great one. It wasn't bad one-on-one. The defensive midfield was a strength in that regard, and I'd say there was only one player on the starting six that couldn't always be trusted one-on-one. (That'd be Scott McWilliams.) As a unit, though, the defense too often forgot about enemies away from the play. All three close-in defenders were guilty of that at times - mostly McWilliams and Harry Prevas, but the defense's leader, Matt Lovejoy, had his moments once in a while too. Matter of fact, I might even be unfairly criticizing McWilliams's one-on-one defense, because often the reason he got beat was because he was too late getting back to his man when that guy would catch a pass. This aspect of the game was what kept this good defense from being a very good one.
So what about next year? UVA will probably be considered the anti-favorite in the ACC - we lose a ton of starters. The starting LSM, goalie, FOGO, plus one starting D, one starting midfielder, and two starting attack - all seniors. Matt White and Owen Van Arsdale make two likely starting attackmen, but the third spot is totally up for grabs. At midfield, you probably have Tucker, Emery, and Mark Cockerton, but Cockerton needs to spend the next four months with his left hand tied behind his back so he can discover his right. Otherwise he might be overtaken, maybe by Carl Walrath.
Defense is likely set; Matt Lovejoy will probably be replaced by Greg Danseglio, who got a lot of second-string time. SSDM is way set; you have Shocker and Hill both returning, and Blake Riley, who missed the season, will also be in the rotation. Riley was coming on strong last year the way Hill did this year, so that position is not to be worried about. LSM, though, will see someone totally new. Listed at LSM behind Clements and second-stringer Wyatt Melzer (who saw plenty of time) are Frank Price and Tanner Ottenbreit, neither of whom I ever saw on the field. Maybe against VMI or something.
Faceoffs are mostly fine, but Parks can't take them all. Someone will need to step up and be the second man there. "LaPierre" you might say, but the problem is he loses a lot of his faceoffs because he can't play wing for himself. And then there's the almighty goalie question, and it'll be a three-horse race between Austin Geisler, Rhody Heller, and incoming freshman Dan Marino. Geisler was the only one to see any time this season (besides Conor McGee, who isn't a factor) but that won't affect things. It'll be a three-horse race with no head starts.
Enough questions to make you wonder if 2013 UVA will be 2012 Syracuse. Fortunately, though, enough talent to take a pretty good stab at avoiding that. 2013 is a long way off, but from here, I think we set the goal like this: 2013 UVA lacrosse should try to be 2012 UVA baseball.