- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

Maryland’s lacrosse program needed a shutdown defenseman after All-Americans Chris Passavia and Lee Zink graduated last year. Steve Whittenberg needed a new home after leaving the Air Force Academy at about the same time.

Turns out the pair were a perfect match, even if Whittenberg wasn’t completely aware of whom he was replacing.

“I didn’t really know who was missing until I got here, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’m filling some really big shoes,’ ” Whittenberg said.

It hasn’t been a problem for Whittenberg, who anchored a youthful Maryland defense while it grew up through a sometimes trying season. He was the only defenseman to start every game for the third-seeded Terrapins (9-5), who welcome Penn State (9-5) to Byrd Stadium tonight for a first-round NCAA tournament game.

Whittenberg also leads Maryland defensemen with 35 groundballs and shares the lead in caused turnovers (16) with fellow sophomore Ray Megill.

“He’s a pretty intense guy in all aspects of life,” sophomore midfielder Jimmy Borell said. “He’s your stereotypical Maryland defender. He really fills that role - big, tough, aggressive.”

Borell should know. Though two years older, Borell played with Whittenberg at Lake Braddock High School in Burke, and the two were later reunited at Air Force.

Borell left Colorado Springs before last season began, while Whittenberg was determined to see through a full year at the academy, which he admits was “a little different from what I expected.” After the season, he looked to Maryland - a school that had recruited him as a prep player.

“Once I got here, it was a whole new experience,” said Whittenberg, whose father is an Air Force grad. “Great lacrosse, great people. You’re getting the college experience you’re looking for when you sign up for a college.”

Whittenberg has stepped into the void created by Passavia and Zink’s departure off the field as well.

The Terps opened the season without a truly big name at the defensive end of the field. Interestingly, that might have helped their young defense come together faster than it would have otherwise.

“Zink and Passavia, they were the head honchos,” sophomore goalie Harry Alford said. “They were ‘the man.’ They did everything right, nothing wrong, but there’s just a difference. You weren’t comfortable around them because you were in awe of them all of the time - even if you’re their teammate, you were still in awe of them. Whittenberg, he offers a little bit more, I feel, because we’re the same [age] and he’s a lowerclassman like us.”

The season hasn’t been perfect at the defensive end for Maryland, which starts a sophomore in goal and two sophomores and a freshman at close defense. It took time for the group to jell, and the Terps surrendered 10 goals three times in a four-game span in early March - the first such streak at Maryland since late in the 1999 season.

Yet over the last four games - three against NCAA tournament teams - the Terps have allowed only 24 goals. Whittenberg helped limit Virginia’s John Christmas and Duke’s Matt Danowski to a goal and three assists in their ACC tournament matchups, and he likely will be a valuable weapon in the postseason as well.

“We got what we expected,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “We thought with a team that was losing such tremendous guys as Zink and Passavia, we needed a cover guy, and he’s been exactly that. He’s been great on the ball.”

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