All eyes — especially those belonging to opposing defenses — are on Shack Stanwick. As the quarterback of the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, Stanwick's movements are closely monitored by opponents' top defenders and their teammates in case a slide is warranted.
But the observations that matter the most to the junior attackman are those he hears after games from father Wells, mother Dori, and brothers Steele and Wells.
"It's cool," said Stanwick, a Baltimore resident. "I love when my siblings and parents come out. They're great supporters of me, and after games, they give me feedback. It's something that I try not to take for granted."
Scrutiny has been an extra shadow that has followed Stanwick ever since he began to play lacrosse. And as Stanwick and the No. 6 seed Blue Jays (8-6) prepare to welcome Duke (12-4) to Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in an NCAA tournament first-round matchup, the attention will only be heightened.
Can Stanwick lead a team that has dropped its past two games and three of its past five? Can he spark an offense against a Blue Devils defense that ranks seventh in Division I at only 8.1 goals per game? And can he help propel a historically rich program that has been to only one Final Four in its past seven postseason appearances?
But if you're expecting Stanwick to shy away from the pressure, think again.
"I kind of take it, and I embrace it," he said.
That's about as bold a statement as one will get from Stanwick, whose laid-back attitude differentiates him from Steele and Wells. But like his older brothers, Shack Stanwick is the undisputed leader on offense.
"For us to be successful, he needs to be involved," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "He doesn't necessarily need to score, but he needs to be very involved. He needs to touch the ball, he needs to help distribute the ball, he needs to make sure that everybody is in the right spots, and when he's doing those things, we're usually pretty successful."
Stanwick, who played his freshman season in 2015 with Wells when he was a senior, assumed the quarterback role as a sophomore — a responsibility he enjoyed at Boys' Latin. Senior midfielder John Crawley said Stanwick brings a measure of calm when the ball is in his stick
"The thing that I can trust the most is that he's going to make the right decision at the right time," Crawley said. "I think he has a really good mind for the game, and everything slows down for him while he's playing. … You trust that he's going to make the right play, the right pass, know when to dodge."
Stanwick has a 47-game points streak that has been in danger a couple of times. He played all 15 games last season despite a painful back injury that kept him at no more than 60 percent of his full health, according to Pietramala. And despite injuring his left foot in the second quarter of a 19-9 rout of Michigan this April 22, he played a week later in a 12-5 loss at Maryland.
Stanwick shrugged off concerns about his foot, saying: "It bothered me a little bit, but everyone's banged up. From our team and other teams, guys are always playing with injuries that you don't even hear about. So it was nothing different than what other guys are playing with."
As if to back up that statement, Stanwick had four goals and one assist in a 15-13 loss at Ohio State in a Big Ten tournament semifinal May 4. The four goals matched a career high, and ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said the ability to score is an element that Stanwick must use more often.
"I think down the stretch, a lot like his brother Wells did when they went to the Final Four two years ago, Wells became more of a threat turning the corner and becoming a scorer," said Carcaterra, a former Syracuse midfielder. "You know what you're getting from Stanwick in man advantages and transition because he's got brilliant vision and his understanding of the game is off the charts. I think for Hopkins to make a run, though, they're going to need to see more goals out of Stanwick and that will open up things offensively."
When informed of Carcaterra's comment, Stanwick replied: "I think he's absolutely right, and I think it's been something that I've been trying to work on all year and throughout my career. That's the goal, but you've got to take what the defense gives you at the end of the day."
Offensive coordinator Bobby Benson was not ready to fully jump in the pool with Carcaterra, but he did agree that the offense is more efficient when the ball cycles through Stanwick.
"I do think we're better when Shack is involved," he said. "I think he needs to be involved behind the goal, above the goal, in the picking game, in the screening game, off the ball. He has to be involved everywhere, and he's got to do a good job of making sure that his defender has to defend every component of his game."
Stanwick takes it personally when the offense underperforms and called his 45-point campaign thus far "all right." That perspective will change, though, if Johns Hopkins can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
"I'd like to have a few plays back or a few games where I could have changed the course of that, but I think it's been OK, and ultimately we're in the playoffs, and it's a new start," he said. "So we're looking to make a difference from here on out."