Throwback Dixon displays versatility, maturity for unbeaten, No. 1 Virginia

College lacrosse

Dixon displays versatility, maturity for No. 1 Virginia

May 25, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Kyle Dixon was a shy, sheepish 17-year-old when he arrived at the University of Virginia, too young to sign assorted releases and embarrassed about having to fax the paperwork to his parents in Millersville.

As a sophomore, he endured a Cavaliers meltdown.

His junior season ended with an NCAA semifinal loss in which Dixon missed what would have been a game-winning shot.

At the end of his college lacrosse career, however, Dixon doesn't have to explain a thing.

One of the most complete players in the land, Dixon is a throwback, a do-it-all midfielder whose versatility is a key to Virginia possessing a rare fluidity, a perfect record and the favorite's role at this weekend's final four.

"When you prepare for Virginia, he's the first thing you mention," Towson coach Tony Seaman said. "Who's going to take care of Kyle Dixon? You get the matchup they want, you're in trouble. You get the matchup you want, and he destroys you anyway. With all the specialists in the game today, Dixon is what makes Virginia so difficult to play against."

Dixon and four attackmen are the finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy, given to the nation's outstanding player.

A mainstay on the Cavaliers' first midfield since 2003, Dixon works a wing on faceoffs, is on the extra-man unit and is the midfielder who releases after Virginia kills a penalty. Coach Dom Starsia doesn't have to replace Dixon when the Cavaliers defend in settled situations, a vital ingredient in up-tempo Virginia being the highest-scoring team in Division I since the 1990s.

"Sometimes, when you're not in the flow of the offense, a great defensive play can get you going," Dixon said. "I pride myself in going both ways. As a midfielder, you have to do that. You should be able to play both offense and defense. We always say, we play lacrosse like it should be played. It's supposed to be the fastest game on two feet. When you're a team that gets up and down, sometimes it's painful to watch other teams."

Dixon began his busy ways at Archbishop Spalding High. After his sophomore year, he contemplated a transfer to an A Conference school in Baltimore, but returned for two more years of running roughshod over the B Conference competition in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association. Dixon is 6 feet 4 and 214 pounds, and hasn't grown much since high school.

"He looked like the Jolly Green Giant, a man among boys," Starsia said of Dixon at Spalding. "He had to learn how to work, how to appreciate his gifts and use them."

There was no pressure on Dixon when he joined Virginia, as he was an afterthought on the 2003 NCAA championship team, the third man on a unit that included Tewaaraton Trophy winner Chris Rotelli and third-team All-American Billy Glading. That high gave way to a losing record in 2004 and Virginia's only absence from the NCAAs since 1992, what Starsia describes as "a good punch in the jaw."

"As Dom tells us, that year is a part of who we are," Dixon said. "It was a huge change of roles for me. I tried to carry a bigger load. It didn't work the way I had hoped it would, but that got us ready for the run we made last year."

That was the season that ended in the NCAA semifinals, when a Dixon shot in overtime was converted into a transition goal for Johns Hopkins, which went on to win the title.

Dixon is just the fourth midfielder in Atlantic Coast Conference history to collect 50 goals and 50 assists in a career. This season, he has career highs for goals (17) and assists (19), all while drawing the opponent's long-stick midfielder.

"Kyle takes a huge burden off everybody else," sophomore attackman Ben Rubeor said. "Every week he gets the pole, and every week he handles it exceptionally well. We have to create our offense from some place, and a lot of the time, that starts with Kyle. He's not necessarily going to be the highest scorer on the team, but he's getting double-teamed and forcing slides, which is a big key to our offense."

One role that Dixon doesn't have is that of captain. While attackman Matt Ward, the Cavaliers' other Tewaaraton finalist, was a leader from the day he got to Charlottesville, Dixon is not the rah-rah type. He has become more vocal, but his teammates are still surprised when he asks for a forum. It's one reason they were listening when he instructed them to focus on their shooting at halftime against Georgetown in the quarterfinals.

"It's been neat, watching Kyle grow up," Starsia said. "Last year, we began to see him assume responsibility for the people around him, something I wasn't sure he was capable of doing. He had to retool his own skills and assume a leadership role. He's expanded his game. On ground balls and defense, he's become a tougher lacrosse player. "

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

50-50 MEN

Virginia's Kyle Dixon is one of four midfielders in ACC history with 50 goals and 50 assists in a career.

Player, School ................................ Years .......... G ........ A

Frank Urso, UM ...................... 1973-1976 ...... 127 ...... 81

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