Excelling in a competitive league like the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tends to generate pretty big expectations for a college career. Steele Stanwick showed he could live up to those expectations in his first year at the University of Virginia. The former Loyola-Blakefield star worked on his left hand and wound up earning a starting spot on the Cavaliers’ attack. He quickly showed he belonged, becoming the team’s third-highest scorer, putting up 58 points (senior Garrett Billings just beat him to #2 with 59), netting 36 goals and 22 assists.
Now with the graduation of standout seniors Billings and Danny Glading, the sophomore Stanwick will be the veteran on what should be a young but potentially dynamic attack unit. LAX.COM got Stanwick on the phone to talk about how he’s adjusted to life at UVa, and what we can expect out of him and the Cavaliers in the future.
What was your experience like as a freshman at the University of Virginia?
Steele Stanwick:Overall it was an awesome experience, getting to play with some great guys like Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, and I learned a lot from those guys. Just kind of being on the team last year was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from a lot of good leaders…My role definitely changed from high school…I was kind of lower on the totem pole than I had been ever in my career, but it was a great reality check and a humbling experience. Overall it was a fun experience. I learned a ton, and you know I think I definitely got better with my left hand, and I think the game kind of slowed down towards the end for me.
Did you know before you arrived at Virginia that you would probably be taking over the attack spot vacated by the graduated Ben Rubeor (’08), or were you left to see where you found a role on this team?
Coach [Dom] Starsia sent out an email at the start of the summer going into my freshman year, he sent it out to all the incoming freshman attackmen, just saying, ‘the guy with a left hand is probably going to get some significant playing time, so we should probably focus on that in the summer.’ So he kind of let us know over the summer. I was coming off a broken thumb at the time and kind of really took that as my opportunity to help the team out. So that whole summer I really focused on my left hand and continued to do that all the way up and through last year.
How did playing with two talented seniors in Glading and Billings help you grow?
You just learn so much from them on and off the field. Just the way that they carry themselves off the field was a great model for me to get to follow. On the field, they’re always very calm and very supportive. I can’t think of one time where those guys yelled at me or anything like that. They’re always very positive and supportive. You just pick up little things, what they do on the field, what they’re looking for in the defense. They’ll tell you, so you learn and grow from those guys on and off the field, but I did my best just to try to take tips from them and kind of keep moving forward.
Glading and Billings also had very different styles. Billings was a terrific inside player and finisher. Glading was a very fluid, dodging, all-around attackman. Did you try to borrow elements from each of their games while building your own?
Obviously with Garrett, he’s just one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around. With him, he doesn’t have the hardest shot, but I feel like he could get it off the quickest. He had a very quick release, so from Garrett I kind of learned to get the shot off as quick as you can. And Garrett, for a Canadian, he was an unbelievable passer. Now looking back, I look for the same passing lanes as Garrett did.
A guy like Danny, he’s such a great dodger, really just understood the game. With Danny, he kind of could do everything. He had a right and a left. His change of direction was just so good, and he really just pressured the defense so much. Danny was one of those guys, he just was so good at turning the corner. I try to do that, and try to put a little bit of their games and incorporate it into mine a little bit.
Glading definitely developed into the role of the quarterback for the offense during his junior and especially senior years. Now with him gone, are you the heir apparent to that role, at least taking over as the quarterback of the attack?
I think naturally that just kind of happens as you’re one of the more experienced guys on the team. I do think I’ve taken on more of a leadership role. I have been playing behind a lot more than I did last year. I think that will happen a lot this year, although I think we’re going to have, whomever’s in there at attack, no matter if it’s Chris [Bocklet], or Connor [English], or Matt White, or Nick O’Reilly. We’re all very versatile and can do a lot of different things. But I think for the most part I will be playing behind the goal, more in a leadership role.
Is that something you look forward too, especially after your experience at Loyola-Blakefield, where it was a talented high school team, but you still seemed the focal point of the offense? Is being ‘the guy’ something you are familiar and comfortable with?
Yeah, definitely. It’s something I haven’t seen in two whole years now, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m still pretty rusty not having played it for a year, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot different from last year. A lot of the older guys took some pressure off me. I’m still trying to get back in the swing of things behind the goal there, and we’ll see what happens. So far I like the change going from behind the goal. I’ve always kind of felt more comfortable going behind the goal.
Last year you were the big blue-chip recruit coming in who earned a starting spot on the team. This year Connor English and Matt White kind of come in as the heralded yet untested recruits. Did you have any words or advice to those guys having just gone through that experience last year?
I don’t know everything. I’m only a sophomore so I still try to stay in my place. But I just told them, ‘don’t be afraid to go to the goal.’ I try also, just how Danny and Garrett were with me, just to be very supportive and positive and try never to be negative, because I know it’s tough as a freshman coming in. You’re seeing some things for the first time, and it’s always helpful to be positive, and keep encouraging them to play their game and just play smart.
Have you shared with them any of the humbling experience, letting them know, ‘you came in as the top dog in your high school or conference probably, but at a place like this, you are just one of a lot of really talented players, but don’t let that discourage you’?
I think naturally Connor, Matt, and Nick are all smart guys, and they kind of realize that when they came to school, that it’s not going to be like it was in high school, just from being out here the first day of practice. Those guys are very humble guys, and it didn’t really come up in talking to them, I think they realized. They’re all great players, and they are all going to learn how to excel at the college level.
You are only a sophomore, and with two open spots on attack, you will probably play alongside another sophomore or freshman. So while the attack will be inexperienced, you will also be able to grow and build continuity over a few seasons, which could make you a dangerous unit. Is that an exciting prospect?
It’s pretty cool just being at the start of it…It’s a fun experience just seeing everyone come together and kind of gel…It’s pretty cool to be out there on the field and seeing the chemistry get built between me and some of the guys and other guys. It’s just a lot of fun. I think we’re all looking forward to it. Obviously it’s going to be pretty challenging in the beginning. We’re definitely going to take our growing pains and take our bruises, but I think we’re all pretty excited about it and ready to give it our best shot.
Since the attack will be pretty young and inexperienced this year, how helpful is it that the midfield is full of mostly older, veteran, experienced guys? Will that mean the offense will run more through them than the attack, at least at first?
Without a doubt, I think it really helps having guys like Brian Carroll and Shamel [Bratton], and Rhamel [Bratton], and John Haldy, and all our midfielders. It really helps having a veteran group up there. We’re definitely going to need some help from those guys. They will definitely take a lot of pressure off us. Through them we’ll be able to succeed down there at the attack end. I think having some veteran midfield players is really going to help not just us out, but the entire team.
What would you say the strengths of your game are?
I just try to be as patient as I can. Just try to take what the defense gives me. I try not to force the ball too much. I pride myself on trying not to have too many turnovers. Maybe decision making, maybe something like that.
What are things you would still like to focus on and improve in your game? I think everywhere a little bit. Dodging definitely. I think I have a lot of room for improvement everywhere, so I am just going to take it one day at a time and keep trying to get better in everything everyday at every practice.
What are you most excited about in the upcoming 2010 season for the Cavaliers?
I’m just excited to get back on the field. It’s going to be a fun season. Nothing beats game day on Saturday, just going out there, playing with all you’re best friends on Saturday. It’s always a great experience just making those games memories.
Ending your season on a sour note like you did against Cornell last year (a 15-6 loss in the Final Four), how eager is everyone to get back on the field this spring and get going again?
I think it’s no surprise that everyone is pretty bitter with the way the last year ended, and everyone is pretty anxious to get back out there and set the tone for next season. I think that’s pretty evident with how our fall ball went. It was a very tough fall ball, very hard working fall ball. I think everyone’s very hungry to get out there and play better than we did at the end of last year, because obviously last year was not the way we wanted to go out. It’s pretty evident that everyone is pretty anxious to get out there and just start playing again.
What would be considered a successful season for UVa this year?
Obviously we always have high expectations here at Virginia. Every team’s ultimate goal is to get to the national championship and ours is no different. We’re just going to keep working hard every day and see what happens.