Dixon makes impact in his freshman year

Spalding alumnus helps Virginia to ACC title game

College Lacrosse

April 20, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Kyle Dixon was more than a standout lacrosse player at Archbishop Spalding High. He also earned the school's Excellence in Chemistry Award, and his ability to recognize the volatility of certain compounds has come in handy during his freshman season at Virginia.

"At Spalding, I was the lead player," said Dixon, who joined an elite midfield corps here and forced his way on to the first unit. "I've had to change my role, but I knew I was going to have to do that. We've got three great senior midfielders. I thought they were the best unit in the nation last year. I was a vocal leader in high school. I'm trying to do that, but I feel a need to let the light shine on the seniors."

Syracuse has Michael Powell and Princeton revolves around Ryan Boyle, but no college men's team has a better collection of offensive talent than the second-ranked Cavaliers, who meet No. 14 Duke today (3 p.m.) in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game at Klockner Stadium.

Sophomore attackmen John Christmas and Joe Yevoli are recognized playmakers. Coach Dom Starsia thinks Chris Rotelli should be national Player of the Year. Last season he ran on a dynamic first midfield with Billy Glading and A.J. Shannon. Crunch time often sees that group reunited - Glading got the overtime goal that beat North Carolina, 13-12, in Friday's semifinals - but he's the one who made room for Dixon and shifted to the second unit.

"It's pretty difficult for any freshman to step in, but Kyle's done a great job," Glading said. "He proved he had the ability to run on the first line with Chris [Rotelli] and A.J. [Shannon]. He's a specimen. Sometimes you have to say, `Kyle, even though you're a freshman, sometimes you can run over people.' He has the capability to do things that other players can't."

Dixon stands 6 feet 4, weighs 210 pounds and can power his way through a double team.

In lieu of joining an established prep power, he followed a brother and sister to Spalding, where he manhandled the opposition in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's B Conference. His 193 goals and 196 assists established a career point record for Anne Arundel County-based players, but he also heard jibes that he didn't do it in the A Conference.

Despite its firepower, this has been a season of transition for the Virginia offense. It spent the past four seasons following the direction of Conor Gill, who came out of St. Paul's and notched 146 career assists. With Gill back coaching at his prep alma mater, the Cavaliers need a new traffic cop who can draw a second defender and dump the ball to the open man.

In Virginia's first six games, Dixon had one goal and two assists. In the past four, he has three and four, as Starsia has had to coax him into being as assertive as he was at Spalding.

"Kyle could absolutely have his way in the B Conference," Starsia said. "All of a sudden, he was running into guys who were as athletic as him, and he was tentative. In the first half of the season, we weren't getting a lot of production from him. He was respectful of the veterans, to the point of being deferential. We told him he had more to offer, and not to be afraid of making mistakes.

"My mantra became, `No short stick [defensive midfielder] can cover you.' We've told him to go to the cage until he draws a double team. That's going to mean better shots for Rotelli and Shannon, and that's going to make us a better team."

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