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To understand U.Va.’s identity, start with its most visible player, Steele Stanwick

Mugshot

Senior attackman Steele Stanwick, celebrating last year’s NCAA title, will start another tournament run Sunday. (Associated Press)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The most striking sight at the peak of the incline on the walk into Klockner Stadium isn’t the flags heralding Virginia’s lacrosse championships. Nor is it an often-packed grandstand.

It’s just off to the left, where a neatly stacked pile of youth No. 6 jerseys sits. Or maybe it’s just off the field, where young fans peer across the way and eagerly wait to catch a glimpse of pregame work on a mid-April afternoon.

This is the Steele Stanwick Effect. For all of the senior attackman’s on-field feats, it is perhaps more impressive how smoothly he navigates a volume of attention few in the game ever encounter.

“He is the closest thing our sport has right now to a rock star,” Virginia assistant coach Marc Van Arsdale says. “When kids come to camp, they want to know, ‘When is Steele going to be here?’ Everyone wants to see his locker when you go into the locker room.”

For certain, some of it is simply performance. Stanwick won the Tewaaraton Award last year as the nation’s top player and was named the ACC player of the year the past two seasons. He is Virginia’s all-time leader in points (260). In the Cavaliers’ most recent game, he leapfrogged such names as Gary Gait, Eamon McEneaney and Tom Marechek to move into 21st on the NCAA career scoring list.

With 260 points, senior attackman Steele Stanwick (right) is Virginia's all-time leader and 21st on the NCAA career scoring list. (Associated Press)

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With 260 points, senior attackman Steele Stanwick (right) is Virginia’s all-time leader ... more >

Yet as fifth-seeded Virginia (11-3) prepares to play host to Princeton (11-4) on Sunday in an NCAA tournament first-round game, it is clear Stanwick’s appeal is rooted in something greater.

Perhaps some of it is on-field vision. A knack for timely production is a plus. There’s no doubt the name helps. A personality rooted deeply in family is especially important.

“He’s always been a very laid-back and down to earth guy, yet very driven as well,” says Tad Stanwick, Steele’s older brother. “I think that’s something my parents tried to instill in all of us, to be humble and gracious in whatever you do. That’s Steele in a nutshell.”

Often, it comes back to his number more than the numbers. When Cook Out, a popular North Carolina-based burger and milkshake chain, opened a Charlottesville location in March, it pinned a No. 6 Virginia lacrosse jersey just to the right of the counter.

And when Virginia suffered a blowout loss to Duke last month, coach Dom Starsia lingered on the field with his family for 15 minutes. When he got up to leave, a throng of young fans remained, clustered around Steele Stanwick with the hopes of leaving with an autograph.

None departed disappointed.

“It’s really cool,” Stanwick says. “Not everyone gets to experience that. For me, I’ve been very fortunate to have that. It’s definitely gotten a little more prevalent in the last year or so. You see more 6s, which is great to see. It kind of pumps me up, to be honest. It gets me excited.”

Grounded and poised

Summon the subject of Stanwick, and Wyatt Melzer wears a knowing grin. The pair have roomed together for four years, and few understand how the Cavaliers’ star ticks like the long stick midfielder.

He sees the aftereffects of facing the nation’s top defensemen week after week. He pokes fun at the guy teammates call “Grandpa” for the effort needed just to be ready on game day.

Yes, there is teasing over the adulation Stanwick receives. No matter how good Stanwick is, he isn’t immune to the sorts of good-natured verbal jabs that exist on any team. It’s how he prefers it.

“On the field, he’s Steele Stanwick or SS6 or whatever we call it,” Melzer says. “He’s got a little persona. He’s sort of like Superman — he’s kind of a regular guy off the field.”

And, well, he looks like a regular guy. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, Stanwick doesn’t stand out on size alone. Feel free to debate his athleticism (Van Arsdale insists it’s an underrated facet of his game, and there’s merit to his argument), but Stanwick typically does not physically dominate a game.

But he can control things intellectually, often zipping passes to where a teammate will be rather than where he is. Much of it stems from a childhood in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood, where lacrosse was a common thread in a family with eight children.

In a separate garage, Stanwick would play wall ball, firing shots on a 6-by-6 square his father painted on brick after putting on some music. On the weekends, father and sons would trek to Johns Hopkins and fire hundreds of shots.

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About the Author

Patrick Stevens

Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at 64plus4@gmail.com.

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