From his seat at a Federal Hill restaurant, surrounded by friends, Steele Stanwick had a funny feeling as he watched his younger brother Wells in Johns Hopkins' 14-8 victory at Virginia in the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament Sunday.
It was the feeling that Steele Stanwick had seen his brother's dodges and goals before — namely because he himself had used them and had scored them.
"It was kind of surreal," said the elder Stanwick, a Loyola High grad and former Cavalier. "I had a little bit of mixed emotions, but I was just so happy for him and proud of him. But yeah, I kind of caught myself thinking that it looked pretty familiar out there."
Reversing from his usual role as feeder, Wells Stanwick piled up five goals and an assist against Virginia. The Blue Jays (11-4) seek another standout performance from him when they meet top-seeded and reigning national champion Duke (14-3) in a quarterfinal at noon at Delaware. Hopkins is looking to advance to the semifinals for the first time in six years.
Stanwick figures to be the focus of the Blue Devils defense — the junior attackman leads the offense in assists (41) and points (63). His 41 assists are the most in a season by a Johns Hopkins player since Jack Thomas finished with 45 in 1973 and rank as the fifth-most in program history. His 63 points are the most since Dan Denihan had 65 in 2000.
ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said Stanwick might not wow observers with his athletic ability, but uses his lacrosse IQ to distinguish himself from his peers.
"He has a great stick and great awareness, and he is the glue that holds it all together," Dixon said. "He is the oil that keeps that engine running. … Stanwick can dodge, score and feed. He's a triple threat, and if you don't defend him that way, he'll make it a long day for you."
Asked whether he thought he would put up those numbers before the season began, Stanwick is candid.
"It's pretty crazy," the former Boys' Latin player said. "I guess you don't really go into a season thinking, 'My goal this year is to lead the team in assists.' I just go in and study the game plan every week, and I've been lucky enough that the guys I pass the ball to a lot have finished."
As a member of a family whose surname is as synonymous with lacrosse as the Gaits, Powells and Thompsons, Stanwick has the unenviable position of following Steele, who led Virginia to the national championship in 2011, won the Tewaaraton Award that year as the nation's best player and graduated as the program's all-time leader in points.
The comparisons are inevitable but unfair, according to Steele Stanwick, who is an assistant coach for the Johns Hopkins women's team.
"There are so many factors that go into it," he said. "I think it's tough to compare. We're a little different as players, but we're also similar. And we've played on different teams, in different programs, different philosophies, different teammates. So I think it's tough to compare. But I'm just so proud of what he's been able to do and hopefully, he can keep doing it."
Wells Stanwick, who said he consults his older brother on opposing defenses, said he doesn't mind the comparisons.
"I don't think it's a bad thing at all," he said. "I don't really mind when people do it. We're brothers and we grew up playing together. So I understand when people say we kind of look alike [on the field]. I don't really mind the comparison because I know he's a really good player. I take it as a compliment."
At 6 feet and 190 pounds, Steele Stanwick was regarded as a physical dodger who had a knack for scoring. But he finished his college career with more assists (143) than goals (126).
And even though Wells Stanwick, an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter, has more assists (71) than goals (55) in his career, he can attack the net as he did Sunday against his brother's alma mater. Recognizing that the Cavaliers did not intend to slide toward him, Stanwick tied a career high in goals.
Virginia coach Dom Starsia said Stanwick did what every smart player does in recognizing a vulnerability and capitalizing on it.
"His strength is his sense of the game, just his intelligence overall," Starsia said. "We play him as a feeder, and today he scores goals. He's always going to be in the right spot at the right time, and that's what you're going to get from somebody like Wells. He's just a very solid lacrosse player. You're not a good lacrosse player if you can only do one thing, whether that's pass or score. You've got to be a complete player, and Wells has got those kinds of tools."
Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said the coaching staff has been encouraging Stanwick to go to the cage if defenses don't respect him as a finisher.
"I thought Wells did a very good job on Sunday of not only being a distributor and a facilitator and involving everybody, but I thought he did a a great job of picking and choosing his times when to call his own number and push the corners," Pietramala said. "I think that's where he has really grown this year. He's developed more of a willingness to attack the goal for himself in an effort to keep the defense honest."
Stanwick's value to Johns Hopkins this spring is undeniable. When he has four or more points in a game, the team is 10-0. When he is limited to three points or fewer, the Blue Jays are 1-4.
"It doesn't put that much pressure on my shoulders, just because I just have to go out and play," he said. "We know we can win, and we're not winning because I'm doing anything special. We're winning because we're playing as a team."
For the past 20 years, the eight siblings in the Stanwick family have all starred in lacrosse, and all at the attack position. Wells Stanwick, the second-youngest, is trying to join older brother Steele (2011) as the only ones to win a national championship.