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The Stanwick Way

February 17, 2014
The eight Stanwick siblings share a strong work ethic and have been standouts on Baltimore lacrosse fields for more than two decades

Issue 194: Stanwick Lacrosse Players
Clockwise from top left: Tad (Rutgers Athletics); Steele (U.Va. Media Relations); Wells (Johns Hopkins Athletics); Shack (Don Obrecht/Boys' Latin); Covie (Boston College Athletic Communications); Coco, Wick and Sheehan Stanwick (Georgetown Sports Information)
University of Virginia men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia's favorite memory of Steele Stanwick occurred during the first practice of Steele's 2008-09 freshman season.

Starsia had written Steele, the fifth of the eight Stanwick children, after his 2008 graduation from Loyola Blakefield to say he needed someone to play the position of left-handed attack for the coming season and ask whether Steele could work on that part of his game.

"It was our very first drill of fall practice," Starsia said. "He jumped in front of the left-handed line and ripped two shots, low to high, into the net. Then he kind of looked at me, as if to say, 'I am going to take care of this for you, Coach.' " 

It set the tone for Steele's career at Virginia, during which he totaled 126 career goals and 143 career assists, won the 2011 Tewaaraton Award and helped lead the Cavaliers to victory during the 2011 national championship.

"There was a level of seriousness about his daily effort that was astonishing," Starsia said. "It was a special discipline learned at home." 

From their work ethic, to their lacrosse IQ, to their ability to see three or four moves downfield, to their positive and humble demeanors, the Stanwick family of lacrosse players -- Sheehan, Wick, Coco, Tad, Steele, Wells, Covie and Shack -- has been taking care of business on the lacrosse field for more than two decades. 

Shack's graduation from Boys' Latin in June will end a 21-year run of having a Stanwick playing Baltimore high school lacrosse. It began with Sheehan, who graduated from Notre Dame Prep in 1997. Wick (1999), Coco (2003) and Covie (2011) later competed for the Blazers, while Tad (2005) and Wells (2011) preceded Shack in the Lakers' program.

"Sheehan, Wick and Coco were the pioneers," said Bob Shriver, who is entering his 35th season as Boys' Latin's varsity lacrosse coach. "They all come with an amazing skill set -- impeccable stick skills and amazing hands from throwing hundreds upon hundreds of balls at the wall. They have a great feel for the game, and they love to play. You can't teach that stuff."

They weren't the fastest, biggest or strongest players, but these eight young women and men often worked the hardest, and as a lacrosse family, are cementing their legacy on the game. Sheehan, Wick and Coco each served as a team co-captain for at least one year at Georgetown; Tad was a co-captain for Rutgers as a redshirt senior in 2010; and Steele was a two-time co-captain at Virginia.

Wells, who plays for Johns Hopkins, and Covie, who attends Boston College, are entering their junior seasons. Each had a team-high point total as a sophomore. Shack, who was named to The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro first team in 2013, has committed to Johns Hopkins.

"There is nothing like having [a Stanwick] on your team," said Kim Simons, a former head coach of the Georgetown women's team, who had All-Americans Sheehan, Wick and Coco. "They changed the mentality of our program. They brought a work ethic that was second to none. We went twice to the national championship and came within a pipe of winning one."

The Girl With A Bow Who Shoots At The Wall

Sheehan started playing lacrosse at age 6 with her father in Roland Park. Wells Stanwick Sr. and his wife, Dori, had grown up in the Washington, D.C., area, where not many people played lacrosse at the time. 

"They were dumbfounded by all these kids with lacrosse sticks," said Sheehan, who now covers lacrosse for CBS Sports. "Dad took us to whatever game was good that weekend -- Hopkins, Loyola, wherever. It was a way for us to bond. He knew a lot about the sport for someone who never played it."

One thing Wells Sr. noticed about recreation league practices, Sheehan said, was that the players would get only 10-15 touches. He constructed a wall on the outside of the garage for his children to practice their stick skills. Wall ball is an integral part of the Stanwicks' lacrosse regimen.

Issue 194: Stanwick Family
Back row (l-r): Dori, Tad, Wells Sr., Coco, Sheehan, Steele and Wick Stanwick. Front row (l-r): Wells, Shack and Covie. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stanwick Family Archive)
"The wall is as big as a goal," Steele said. "My dad painted the outline of the goal, and we play within the wall. The main one was outside in the garage. There were walls down in the basement, but my mom would get mad and kick us out."

Sheehan said she had practiced on the wall every day, shooting 50 right-handed shots and 50 left-handed ones, and then shoot behind the back. It had to be a clean shot and catch to count, she said, and she focused shots on bottom left and bottom right -- using a trash can for accuracy.

"Dad was adamant about right- and left-handed skills," she said. "He would make it fun. We'd go out for a Slurpee afterward. The boys would join in when we needed a body to guard us."

Simons said Wells Sr. had attended his children's games with a pad and a pen, writing down notes. Sheehan said the feedback she and her siblings had gotten from their father had taught them that they couldn't learn everything about a game from the box score.

"You might have missed shots," Sheehan said, "but he would say they were great shots. You might have scored a goal, but it wasn't the right decision. He'd say: 'You should have hit the person up top. Who will pass it to you if you are not a team player?' " 

When Sheehan burst onto the Baltimore high school girls' lacrosse scene in 1994, she had an immediate impact.

"We'd never seen anything like her," said Wendy Kridel, head lacrosse coach and athletic director at Bryn Mawr and head coach of the 1999, 2003 and 2007 U.S. Under-19 Women's Lacrosse World Championship teams. "She was a scoring machine and the hardest to game-plan for." 

When Sheehan and Wells Sr. visited the Georgetown campus, they scoured the environs for a wall to play on. 

"I became known to the security guards as 'the girl with a bow who shoots at the wall,' "

Sheehan said. "I'd tape up the outline of a goal, and sometimes they'd leave it there, but I always brought the tape with me." 

All of the Stanwick girls wore bows in their hair when they played. 

"I wasn't crazy about the bows at first," Simons said, "but it became an honor to wear one. They banged on the wall all the time. No one had done that before."

Current Georgetown women's coach Ricky Fried, who joined the program as an assistant coach when Wick was a senior, said that although Wick and Coco were different as people, they were similar on the field. They both incorporated extra lacrosse work into their academic schedules, Fried said, and teammates took notice.

Notre Dame Prep coach Mary Bartel said she felt blessed to have coached all the Stanwick girls and to have seen the shots Sheehan took and made, the passes Covie put right into another player's stick, Wick's amazing dodges that ended in goals, and Coco's ability to see the field and orchestrate beautiful plays.

"They did it all unselfishly," Bartel said, "and they did it under pressure."

Making your teammates look good is a major tenet of the Stanwick way. Wells Sr. stressed that no one person would win the game of lacrosse, Sheehan said. Wall ball is another family tradition, which was passed down to each Stanwick player. 

"My favorite vision of Covie is seeing her on the wall teaching a teammate about stick work, ball control and focus," Boston College coach Acacia Walker said. "It was last year, and she had no idea how long I stood and watched, catching and throwing until [she was] blue in the face."

The Fire That Burns Inside Them

Shriver said Tad had been a trailblazer, choosing to commit to Rutgers after Sheehan, Wick and Coco had chosen Georgetown. One of the top 15 leading scorers in Boys' Latin history, Tad came back to the school to help coach the varsity team when Shack was a freshman. Now, Tad is training to be a Navy Seal.

Jim Stagnitta, who coached Tad at Rutgers and is now the coach of the Arcadia men's team, said Tad's decision to play for the Scarlet Knights had been important for the program.

"Most kids look south for schools," Stagnitta said. "It's rare to see them go north. He chose a path so different from his peers. Tad was a frontline recruit from Boys' Latin -- to have that kind of pedigree was huge for us."

After Tad had committed to Rutgers, Georgetown came back into the picture. Stagnitta said he had sat in the Stanwick living room and told Tad and his parents that he would understand if Tad had a change of heart.

"The parents looked at me like I was crazy," Stagnitta said. "His mom told me: 'Tad is committed. He made his decision. He's all in.' " 

When it comes to their mettle as lacrosse players and as people, the Stanwicks are all in. They all have a relentless drive -- academically and athletically -- to be the best, Stagnitta said. On the surface, he said, the Stanwicks are laid-back, which belies the fire that burns inside them. 

"Each one is better than the next," Stagnitta said, "and Shack may be the best of them all. I've done this for 25 years at the college level and have never run into a family like this one."

Issue 194: Steele Stanwick, Tad Stanwick, Wells Stanwick, Shack Stanwick
Steele, Tad, Wells and Shack Stanwick (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mac Kennedy)
Stagnitta said Tad had made a valuable contribution to the Scarlet Knights during a critical rebuilding time for the program. 

"If you look at Tad, you'd never think that he is as tough and as much of a competitor [as he is]," Stagnitta said. "The things he's overcome -- he had to play immediately against the toughest schedule in the country. We needed him to carry the ball as a 165-pound freshman. He took a beating."

Steele said Wells Sr. and Dori deserved 100 percent of the credit for their children's success.

"They taught us to be respectful and gracious," Steele said. "We are a strong Catholic family. All of us went to Cathedral. It's about how you treat people. Skills and athleticism will only take you so far."

Steele said everyone in the family tried to help each other play lacrosse better. They talked about game situations at the dinner table -- techniques and strategies he still uses playing for the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse. Steele was also selected to the U.S. Men's National Team for the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships.

"The great ones like Steele all have a common denominator," said Jack Crawford, who was Steele's coach at Loyola Blakefield. "They have a mindset like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Steele was always analyzing the game. The greater the understanding of the game, the more dangerous they are."

The Legacy

On a frigid January afternoon, the winter sun was setting on Homewood Field, where the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team was practicing. Steele, an assistant coach for the team, was standing on the outskirts of the scrimmage with his hands behind his back in a dark jacket and hood, observing the action with a critical eye -- in much the same way his father has watched him play. 

During the summer of 2013, Blue Jays women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker interviewed nine assistant candidates without any luck. She was speaking with her son Ryan, who plays at Virginia, one night during dinner, and he talked about how Steele was a coach on the field, who could see things happening before anyone else did. Tucker said Ryan had suggested she hire Steele.

Tucker had coached some of the Stanwick girls at camps, and she said Steele had hustled from his practices to watch his sisters play and support them. She felt he had a true respect for the women's game, she said, and had dedicated his career to making his teammates look good. 

"I wanted my program to operate like a family," Tucker said. "He's a special person. Not all men are wired to coach women well." 

After graduating from Virginia, Steele had a conversation with Wick and founded Stanwick Lacrosse LLC -- camps and clinics that develop a player's skill set, knowledge of the game and work ethic.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do after college," Steele said. "Coach Tucker called, and I just laughed at first. But my sisters had prepared me for the women's game."

Tucker said Steele was having a blast with the women's team. Blue Jays men's coach Dave Pietramala said he enjoyed having Steele as part of the school's lacrosse program.

"It's a relief not to have to game-plan against Steele anymore," Pietramala said. "I need to get some information from him. I want to pick his brain for his favorite drills." 

Issue 194: Steele Stanwick, Wells Stanwick
Steele and Wells Stanwick (Photo Credit: Courtesy of U.Va. Media Relations)
Steele now gets to watch Wells practice from his office in the Cordish Center. He will also get to see Shack, the No. 1 lacrosse recruit in the country coming out of Boys' Latin, and Wells together as Blue Jays in 2015.

"Wells is a very mature kid, very coachable." Pietramala said. "The older [Stanwicks] taught the younger ones what the expectations are."

Wells, Covie and Shack are continuing the family tradition of lacrosse excellence this season. With Sheehan and Wick now having children of their own, there will be more Stanwicks carrying lacrosse sticks during the coming years.

"There is a Stanwick brand," said Kridel, who coached Coco on her U-19 team in 2003. "You know what you are going to get with them. They work hard and they are selfless, and they set the tone in practice. I run into them at Starbucks. They are all super nice people and fun to be around. They walk the talk."

The Stanwicks still play some three-on-three pickup games when everyone is home, Steele said.

"We don't check or shoot hard," Steele said. "Wells is usually the instigator. The older girls are a little rusty. The younger guys are pretty sharp. We have fun."

Collectively, the Stanwicks have amassed an array of achievements on the lacrosse field, from All-America honors to prestigious awards to national championships. They have combined to tally more than 1,000 goals and assists and have helped win hundreds of games at the high school and collegiate levels -- and yet those who know the Stanwicks say all of these accomplishments don't eclipse who they are as people. 

"The Stanwicks bring a precision and athleticism to lacrosse that makes it exciting," Bartel said. "They are polite, respectful, engaging young men and women, who are great role models. Their humility rivals their talent."