- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

BALTIMORE — Graham Gill’s first time on the field at a lacrosse final four made a strong impression, one that provided ample motivation to get there as a participant.

The junior midfielder reached the sport’s biggest stage this weekend and scored twice in Saturday’s semifinal to lift second-seeded Navy (15-2) into this afternoon’s national title game against fourth-seeded Syracuse (14-2) at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Gill wasn’t yet in high school when he received a field pass to a final four at Byrd Stadium from his uncle, Virginia coach Dom Starsia. The sights — particularly the festive crowd — became lodged in his memory.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is amazing. This is where I want to be,’” said Gill, whose mother, Christine, is Starsia’s older sister. “Then when I started playing, this was still where I wanted to be. Now that I’m out there and looking around and seeing this, it’s a great feeling.”

But to get this far, he needed a team to play for. Gill starred in soccer at Shawnee High School in New Jersey, but the school didn’t offer a lacrosse program until well after he graduated. He instead played club ball and often traveled more than an hour to scrimmage high school teams.

As Gill neared graduation, Starsia gave Navy coach Richie Meade a call and told him about his skinny, athletic nephew. Intrigued and willing to do a colleague a favor, Meade began recruiting Gill and eventually offered him a scholarship in the academy’s Foundations Program to Avon Old Farms in Connecticut.

The extra year gave Gill the chance to fill out his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame while gaining the experience he needed to succeed on the field at Navy.

Off the field was a different matter. Always a high-energy person — “Even as a little guy, he was kind of nutty, and I like that. He was just fearless and played with reckless abandon,” Starsia said — Gill eventually adapted to the discipline at the academy.

Fortunately, there was still lacrosse to help keep his mind off the rigors of Annapolis. Known as a chatterbox on the field, Gill has been one of the Mids’ vocal leaders during their renaissance season.

“You’re running around in the hallways and memorizing all kinds of different stuff, and lacrosse was just a time in the afternoon to go out with your buddies and just play,” Gill said. “It’s been really helpful in keeping my mind straight and giving me a good release. The days do get long and they get hard, but when you get out on the field with your buddies, you think, ‘This is awesome.’”

Gill’s career has progressed steadily. He started four games as a freshman and then scored 13 goals last year for the Mids. This season, he earned a first-team All-Patriot League nod and leads Navy’s midfielders with 23 goals and 10 assists.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Don’t you wish you had him?’ but he’s at the right place,” Starsia said. “Graham needed what Navy had to offer to him. He needed the discipline. Some of it is all about opportunity, and I don’t know if he’d have been able to develop here.”

Gill will start in the Mids’ first national title game in 29 years today — a long way from the raw athlete Meade first recruited.

“All of the sudden, the kid’s playing in the national championship game, and they’re probably going to have to put a pole on him,” Meade said. “Four years ago he was in Cherry Hill, N.J., playing against nobody — not nobody, but he was not playing at Farmingdale [on Long Island] or Gilman [in Baltimore] or one of those places. It was kind of obscure, but it shows you what kind of impact athletic ability has at the college level.”

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