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Stanwick Steals Tewaaraton Honors

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Yup.  That headline was a hack's dream.  You're welcome.

Some are calling it an upset; some aren't; I merely consider it a victory for the few, the proud, the dinosaurs that still string their sticks traditional.

Last night, Steele Stanwick -- attack for the Virginia Cavaliers -- took home the Tewaaraton Trophy, receiving the honor ahead of fellow finalists Rob Pannell (Cornell), John Galloway (Syracuse), Joel White (Syracuse), and Jeremy Boltus (Army). Stanwick is the third Virginia player to accept the honor, following in the footsteps of Chris Rotelli (2003) and Matt Ward (2006).  Similar to his predecessors, Stanwick won the vote in the same year in which the Cavaliers won the National Championship.

What apparently set Stanwick apart from his peers was his prodigious performances in this year's NCAA Tournament.  As Inside Lacrosse notes, it was likely the deciding factor in the final accounting:

Stanwick finished the season fourth in the country in points per game with 4.12 — behind finalists Boltus and Pannell — netting 32 goals and 38 assists.

But what separated Stanwick from the pack was his emergence as the quarterback of the Cavaliers' retooled offense late in the season and in the playoffs after team turmoil left Virginia with stars Shamel and Rhamel Bratton. He had 21 points in the postseason, often taking the No. 1 assignment from opposing defenses.

"His real skill is making the people around him better," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said during the playoffs. "When you have someone like that, a point guard that lifts everyone, if you move smartly you’re going to get the ball back in a better spot. He’s a rare athlete that impacts all the people around him."

The trophy appeared to be Pannell's heading into the postseason. The Cornell Big Red were riding high with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Pannell had 39 goals and 47 assists heading into the quarterfinal matchup against Virginia. Pannell would net three goals in that loss.

A player from a non-Final Four team winning the award has happened only once, the first time it was given. Doug Shanahan won the 2001 award with Hofstra being eliminated in the quarterfinals. Of the 11 awards, eight are from the national championship team.

I want to be absolute clear on this: I think that Stanwick is a great player; I also think that he had a tremendous tournament run, despite his limited point output in the championship game.  When he graduates next year he will likely go down in Virginia's decorated history as one of the program's best distributors and offensive weapons.

To me, though, Stanwick was not the best player in college lacrosse this season.  I have no problem with including NCAA Tournament performance in making a decision on the Tewaaraton winner.  In fact, it is an important consideration that deserves serious thought.  With that said, however, NCAA Tournament performance should not be the strongest point of emphasis in picking a winner; activity in four games should not outweigh performances in a dozen or more games from February through May.

In that context, I think that Rob Pannell should have hoisted the hardware.  Nobody was better than Pannell from the word "Go," and if we're going to crown the best player in college lacrosse rather than the best player in the NCAA Tournament, Pannell had a better overall resume than Stanwick.  Stanwick had a banner year and I'm not knocking the effort. It's just that Pannell -- in totem -- had a bit more in the goods department.

Regardless, Stanwick is a fine choice and deserves congratulations.  It'll be fun to watch Pannell and Stanwick go at it next year in their final campaigns on the field.