It wasn't the first time that Grant Whiteway had left an opponent a bit stunned.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst junior from Billerica entered Tuesday’s matchup against visiting Providence with five goals for the men’s lacrosse team in its 4-1 start.
After the game’s final whistle, the attack walked off Garber Field with 12 on the season, after powering the Minutemen to a 16-11 victory with a seven-goal performance.
Teammate James Fahey, a former rival at St. John’s Prep, recalls a Billerica Memorial High-St. John’s matchup in May 2010, when Whiteway ran up 10 yards from the goal line and extended before launching a shot 180 degrees into a corner of the net.
“It left us scratching our heads,” recalled Fahey. “Like, ‘How did he just do that?’ ”
The senior defender from Boxford mused that Providence may have been wondering the same thing about Whiteway’s scoring outburst last week.
“I don’t think I really changed anything, I just stuck with it,” said Whiteway, the program’s third-leading scorer (26 goals and 6 assists, 32 points) a year ago.
“I didn’t get as many shots off in the first couple of games, but it’s about being patient and letting the game come to you.”
UMass coach Greg Cannella, in his 20th season, admitted there has been some frustration for Whiteway this year.
But with the emergence of freshman Nick Mariano (15 goals), Whiteway is finding more openings.
“The one things you take advantage of are your opportunities,” Cannella said of Whiteway, who converted 70 percent of the shots he took against the Friars. “He has great expectations of himself, and we do as well.”
He added that the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Whiteway possesses an unusual blend of hard work, discipline, perseverance and talent, making him a dangerous player. He developed those traits under the tutelage of his father, also named Grant Whiteway, a former assistant coach for the Billerica team.
“He’s very quiet and very humble, which puts him in the position to be a good leader by example on the field,” Cannella said. “It’s just not his style to go out there and bang his head against a locker downstairs, but everybody knows Grant’s ready.”
Whiteway’s sisters — 18-year-old Lindsay; Jamie-Lee (Merrimack College, class of 2009), 24; and Brittany (Southern New Hampshire, class of 2011), 27 — were all raised on lacrosse. Jamie-Lee was a goalie at UMass before transferring to Merrimack as a junior.
‘I don’t think I really changed anything, I just stuck with it . . . It’s about being patient and letting the game come to you.’
Whiteway, 22, fondly remembers backyard lacrosse sessions with his father and sisters. He also remembers running from Jamie-Lee after he accidentally broke her thumb on a hard shot.
Deep love for the sport, developed at a young age, has kept Whiteway focused on continually improving.
Matt Whippen, a UMass senior who, along with his twin brother, Mike, played lacrosse for Chelmsford High, draws inspiration from Whiteway’s development since high school.
The attack/midfielder has worked on his skills with a focus on becoming dominant with both hands. He preaches confidence on the field as a method for personal and team success.
Whippen (10 points, 7 goals) has also consciously become a more vocal presence, serving as a foil to Whiteway’s quieter style.
“We meet every year for a specific meeting on leadership,” Whippen said of the team. “One of the concepts we talk about is the difference’’ in styles among leaders. He likened his message to the “American Dream,” saying you get out of the game what you put into it.
Bob Fahey, a sophomore defender from Westford (Bishop Guertin High), said Whiteway embodies the UMass brand of lacrosse because of his scrappy play and determination.
He learned the lesson of not taking “a day off” from Whiteway and the seniors. Their workman-like attitude manifested itself for him during an intense midyear conditioning practice following a win.
“Everybody doubted us this year,” Fahey said. “We used that for great motivation. That’s part of our success so far; we came out firing.”
A starting defender,Fahey is making the most of his first healthy collegiate season. He missed the first four gameslast year with a lower-body injury, and split playing time with fellow sophomore Kyle Karaska of Groton.
The two Faheys (not related) and Karaska were all instrumental in a defense that held Brown to two goals in a 15-2 romp on March 1. It was the first time UMass held its opposition to two goals since a 23-2 win over Boston College on March 21, 2001.
Despite his club’s momentum, Cannella was quick to point out that the next win is never guaranteed.
“This team has tried to focus on what’s important,” said, “and that’s the players next to them, and going out there and competing.’’ The shared expectation, added, is “to practice, prepare and play at a high level every time out.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him onTwitter @petecapps.