By Nelson Coffin
9:12 AM EST, March 5, 2014
The name came out of the blue, striking Johns Hopkins University women’s lacrosse coach Janine Tucker like a lightning bolt.
Why not, her son Ryan suggested, ask Steele Stanwick if he would be interested in filling the vacant women’s team offensive coordinator position?
After all, Tucker and her staff had interviewed nine candidates for the job and had yet to pick one out of a promising lot.
Yet they were determined to think outside the box in terms of recruiting new blood for the coaching staff.
That opportunity presented itself when Janine Tucker was mulling over the choices at home, and Ryan, a former teammate of Stanwick’s at the University of Virginia, tossed the 2011 Tewaaraton Award recipient’s hat into the ring.
“Ryan said, ‘You know, mom, you should hire Steele. He was like a coach on the field for us at UVA,’” Janine Tucker said, recounting the conversation. “I thought he was kidding at first. But when I thought about it, it made sense. We’ve known the Stanwicks for a long time because our kids went to school together (at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen School). I really liked the idea.”
Obviously, Stanwick was also intrigued — and a bit surprised — by the offer.
“It was unexpected, and I was kind of shocked,” said Stanwick, who led Virginia to the 2011 Division I championship at M&T Bank Stadium and is the storied program’s all-time leading scorer (269 points). “Is this really happening? I guess everything happens for a reason.”
Even so, he had to figure out how he was going to work around an already busy schedule.
Considering the 24-year-old Roland Park native plays professionally for the Ohio Machine in the Major League Lacrosse boasts an endorsement deal with Under Armour and runs camps and clinics as part of Stanwick Lacrosse, coaching has put even more on his plate.
So far, Stanwick has handled his new duties with the same success he displayed while playing at a high level for Loyola Blakefield, Virginia and the Machine.
The two-time Towson Times/Baltimore Messenger Player of the Year is drawing rave reviews coaching a sport in which his sisters, Sheehan, Wick, Coco and Covie, also excelled at Notre Dame Prep.
Sheehan, Wick and Coco played at Georgetown University and Covie is currently the third-leading scorer for Boston College.
“His sisters put me over the top (on hiring him),” Janine Tucker said. "He was always at their games. I thought that was really cool. And what else is really cool, is that with his brother Wells (a junior attackman for the Blue Jays) already here and (youngest brother) Shack on the way (an attackman from Boys’ Latin), it’s more of a family thing. And that’s what we’re trying to have here in our program — a family.”
Tucker gushes about Stanwick’s impact on a team that has started the season on a five-game winning streak before hosting Towson University on March 5.
“He tweaks fundamentals and has such a calming influence on the team,” she said. “He doesn’t get rattled. We made it clear to Steele that we wanted him to bring things from the men’s game to our game. He shows the girls little nuances on how to run picks, the two-man game, shooting, dodging and footwork. He’s been great, just what we had in mind when we hired him.”
Tucker added that in a victory over Bucknell University, senior midfielder Sammy Cermack appeared to be one of the major beneficiaries of Stanwick’s shooting tutelage.
“Sammy ripped a shot running down the alley, exactly the way Steele taught her to shoot,” Tucker said. “It was beautiful.”
Admittedly, even for a lacrosse savant like Stanwick, picking up the nuances of the women’s game has been a bit of a challenge.
One of the major differences of the sport is the number of players on the field. In the women’s game, there are 12 players per team on the field — two more than allowed on each men’s team.
Plotting how an offense will work during those seven-on-seven confrontations can be difficult.
“It’s just harder to find space to work plays,” Stanwick said.
Moreover, with more bodies inside a confined area and rules prohibiting shots close to other players (shooting space), the structure of the offensive schemes are different.
“You can’t run plays from the outside as much,” he said. “In the men’s game, you work inside-out. It’s the opposite in the women’s game. You can’t really stretch the field on the perimeter.”
There are benefits to the women’s game, though, that Stanwick appreciates.
“The game can be faster in transition,” he said. “The pace of play is a lot quicker. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the women’s game.”
Roland Park Country School grad Jenna Reifler, a sophomore attacker who scored the winning goal in a 6-5 victory over Loyola University Maryland, is a big fan of the new coach.
“I was excited when I heard he was hired because he was such an amazing lacrosse player and athlete,” she said. “Any time there’s a new coach, there’s an adjustment period. But everything clicked right away. It already feels like he’s been coaching us for a year.”
Reifler said that Stanwick’s dodging tips are only part of his contributions toward making her a better player.
“He boosted my confidence in my ability to dodge,” she said. “A lot of the game is about your mindset, knowing when to go to goal and when not to. He’s really helped me with that.”