By David Marcus ’92
Steele Stanwick and Tyler Fiorito ’12 were the two top high-school lacrosse recruits in the country four years ago. Fiorito, a graduate of McDonogh School outside of Baltimore, won three of the four games his team played against Loyola High School, Stanwick’s alma mater, but the two men will face one another for the first time as collegians in the first round of the NCAA playoffs on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Charlottesville, Va. The University of Virginia is seeded fifth in the tournament, while Princeton is unseeded.
Fiorito has had an excellent career at Princeton. A starter in goal since his freshman year, he’s a three-time All-American and this year’s Ivy League Player of the Year. He’s saved 59 percent of the shots he’s faced this year and led a defense that allowed only 7.19 goals a game despite a 15-7 loss to Yale on Sunday in the Ivy League playoffs.
Stanwick has done even better than Fiorito. A starting attackman for four years at Virginia, he put the Cavaliers on his back in last year’s playoffs, scoring three goals and five assists in a 13-12 comeback win in overtime over Bucknell and then keying a 13-9 demolition of Cornell in the quarterfinals. The Cavaliers beat the University of Denver and the University of Maryland in the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend to win the national title, and Stanwick won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s best college lacrosse player.
The defending national champions won 10 of their first 11 games to start the 2012 season, but they’ve cooled off in April. Duke blitzed Virginia 13-5 on April 13, and the University of North Carolina edged the Cavaliers 11-9 the next week. Virginia finished the regular season with a lackluster 10-8 win over Penn in which Stanwick scored six goals and added an assist.
But Virginia remains one of the most talented teams in the country. Stanwick has played on attack with Chris Bocklett and Matt White for three years, and they will carve up Princeton’s defense unless the Tigers play a lot better than they did against Yale. Colin Briggs, Rob Emery and Chris LaPierre are among the most athletic midfielders in college lacrosse. Cavaliers head coach Dom Starsia has traditionally played man-to-man defense, but he went to a zone last April and has stayed with it. A question mark going into the year, senior goalie Rob Fortunato has saved 58 percent of the shots he’s faced. Virginia entered last year’s playoffs in apparent disarray after Starsia threw star midfielders Rhamel and Shamel Bratton off the team, but the squad recovered and went on to win the national title, so the Cavaliers shouldn’t be fazed by their recent slump.
Princeton is coming off its worst performance of the season. After completing an undefeated Ivy League campaign with a 14-9 win over Cornell on April 28, the Tigers played indifferently in a 9-6 win over Brown last Friday and never got untracked two days later against Yale, which won the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will play Notre Dame in the Elis’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992.
Fiorito made only four saves on Sunday, but Yale pelted him with shots from close range that he had little chance of stopping. Princeton’s offense has played well all year but struggled in the Ivy tournament. Tom Schreiber ’14, Princeton’s leading scorer, had only one goal against Brown and two assists against Yale.
Princeton rebounded well from deflating losses to UNC and Syracuse earlier this year, and they hope to do so again against Virginia. The winner of Sunday’s game will play Notre Dame or Yale on May 20 at PPL Park in Philadelphia.
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.