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(Enlarge) Stevenson University and Winters Mill High School graduate Jimmy Dailey has been named the winner of the Iroquois National Award, given to the outstanding player in NCAA Division III by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Here, he's shown in a March game against Lynchburg College. (Photo courtesy Stevenson University, by Daniel Putz)

Jimmy Dailey didn't enter the collegiate lacrosse world from a prestigious private school program. But when he closed his college career last month, the Winters Mill High School graduate left with one of the highest honors in the sport.

The Stevenson University attackman was named the winner of the Iroquois National Award, given to the outstanding player in NCAA Division III by the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.

“It was one of the best memories that I'll have of my athletic career,” said Dailey about his reaction to the news that he was the nation's best player.

“I thought about the support that I'd received from my parents, my teammates and my coaches at Winters Mill and Stevenson. They played an enormous role in my receiving this award,” he said.

Dailey was the first student-athlete in the 17-year history of the Stevenson athletic program to earn National Player of the Year honors in any sport. It didn't come as a surprise to Dailey's head coach.

“I was really excited for him,” said Paul Cantabene, who was an All-American at Loyola College in the early 1990s. “It was an award that I thought he deserved.

“Judging from where our program was five years ago, nobody thought that we'd have a player of the year. It's a tribute to Jimmy that the program changed from what it was to where it is now.”

Dailey had previous experience in building lacrosse programs. Before going to Stevenson, he helped make Winters Mill into a lacrosse school.

He graduated in 2006, just one season before the Falcons became the only county boys' team to win a state championship.

“When I was a freshman, I really liked basketball and didn't think that much about lacrosse,” recalled Dailey, who started playing lacrosse in the Gamber organization at the age of seven. “Then I met coach Sal (Piccataggi), and his passion for the game really rubbed off. … We were an upstart program, with guys that weren't as experienced but were so committed to winning.”

Dailey was a major contributor to the Falcons' success, but was not a sought-after recruit. The only school that showed him significant attention was then-Villa Julie College, which became Stevenson University in mid-2008.

“The allure of Stevenson was coach Cantabene,” Dailey said. “He was one of the best to ever play the pro game. Anytime you have someone of his stature recruiting you, it brings instant credibility.”

Cantabene was somewhat surprised his small-college program had a shot at Dailey.

“We saw Jimmy at summer camps, and noticed that he had quickness and good vision,” Cantabene said. “I was shocked that we were the only school that was recruiting him heavily.”

The school was barely on the lacrosse map when Dailey arrived in fall 2006, but his efforts were crucial to the emergence of the Stevenson program. The Mustangs evolved from a 10-8 season the year before he arrived to become one of the top NCAA Division III programs in the nation by the time he graduated this spring.

“There were two factors that made the program so much better,” Dailey said. “First, coach Cantabene's ability to bring in players who fit our system and, secondly, the overall camaraderie of our team. That cohesiveness and continuity brought us together.”

Despite Dailey's school-record career totals of 329 points and 163 assists, Stevenson fell short of an NCAA championship, losing in the national semifinals in 2009 and 2010 and in the quarterfinals this year. But like the Winters Mill program that Dailey left one year too soon, the Mustangs seem poised to make several runs at future titles.

A national title was the only thing that Dailey didn't get in his five years at Stevenson. In addition to his National Player of the Year award, he also earned first-team All-America recognition three times and was named the Capital Athletic Conference's top player in 2011.

“I worked about as hard as I possibly could,” said Dailey, who was joined by former Winters Mill teammates Jake Stocksdale and Kyle Fendlay at Stevenson.

“I did everything I could to reach my potential, and I'm grateful that things worked out so well.”

Dailey was productive right away, leading the Mustangs with 32 goals and 28 assists during an 11-5 freshman season.

But he played in just one game as a sophomore before suffering a torn shoulder labrum that forced him to redshirt.

“Sitting out was a tough time for me, from a physical, mental, and emotional standpoint,” said the only child of Skip and Colleen Dailey. “(The injury) made me a stronger and more patient person. It could have been a blessing in disguise. I didn't take anything for granted any more.”

Dailey earned his first of three consecutive All-America selections in 2009. He scored 29 goals and assisted on 37 others as the Mustangs went 17-2 and earned both a No. 1 ranking and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. A year later, the Westminster resident accumulated 44 goals and 37 assists as top-ranked Stevenson advanced to the national semifinals for the second straight year before losing to perennial champion Salisbury.

This spring, Dailey led all Division III players in scoring and assists as he guided the Mustangs to an 18-3 record.

He totaled 60 goals and 58 assists, as Stevenson again spent time as the top-ranked team in the nation and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals before losing to Roanoke College.

“He's one of the hardest-working players we've ever had,” Cantabene said. “His injury allowed Jimmy to be around the program for one more year. He's a great leader who really matured in his five years here.”

Dailey also applied his work ethic to the classroom, and earned USILA Scholar All-America recognition in his senior year. The program recognizes lacrosse-playing athletes who have distinguished themselves academically, athletically, and in their communities.

After receiving his business administration degree at Stevenson's May commencement, Dailey is working in downtown Baltimore for Deutsche Bank Alex.Brown, a brokerage and investment services firm.

It was thought that he had played his final lacrosse game on May 27, when Dailey earned Most Valuable Player honors after recording four goals and one assist in the USILA North-South College All-Star Game at Goucher College.

But Dailey might be working a second job soon. This month, he was asked to try out by the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse.

“I would love an opportunity in that league,” said Dailey, who was not selected in the league draft last winter. “The MLL is very accommodating, and they understand that players have to keep full-time jobs. I'm thrilled to pursue it.”

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