Born and raised in Denver, Scales spent his 11th-grade year at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, in part because of its hockey program. But an injury derailed his hockey career, and Scales returned to Denver for his senior year.
He graduated from Regis Jesuit High School, where as a freshman and sophomore Scales had played lacrosse with Rhody Heller and Tanner Ottenbreit, now his teammates at UVa. A fourth Cavalier, freshman midfielder Matt Florence, is also from the Denver area.
If history is any guide, the award handed out Tuesday to Tanner Scales bodes well for his career — and for the UVa men’s lacrosse team.
Scales, a 6-2, 200-pound defenseman, became the 11th Cavalier to be named ACC freshman of the year, as chosen by the conference’s coaches. Previous recipients from UVa include Tim Whiteley (1993), Michael Watson (1994), Conor Gill (1999), Tillman Johnson (2001), Danny Glading (2006) and Steele Stanwick (2009), some of the greatest players in the program’s history.
“It’s awesome to be mentioned in the same category as guys like Steele and Tillman Johnson,” Scales said. “Obviously all individual awards are secondary to the team success, but it’s very humbling. I’m very thankful that the ACC coaches look at me the way that they do.”
Virginia coach Dom Starsia is thankful Scales chose lacrosse over hockey. Not until Scales was in high school did he give up his goal of playing hockey in college and, perhaps, professionally.
Scales played defense on the ice, too, “I think the physicality of hockey really helped me with lacrosse, as well as how quick the game is,” he said. “So when I’m on the lacrosse field, I can slow things down. I’m just more calm because of the experience of playing hockey.”
“It’s great to see the explosion [of lacrosse] out in Denver,” Scales said. “It’s awesome, and I think it just speaks to the growth of the sport.”
Charlottesville is some 1,600 miles from Denver, and Scales marveled at times this year about how far he’d come, especially when he was on the practice field with Florence.
“I remember playing on the same summer team as Matt when we were in seventh grade or something like that,” Scales said, “and I never would have guessed that we both would have ended up here.”
Virginia’s 2013 roster also included players from such states as North Carolina, California and Illinois, none a traditional hotbed for the sport.
“I’ve had kids sitting in my office from these outlying areas,” Starsia recalled, “and they generally say to me, `I know you’re biased against me, Coach,’ and I say, `No, I’m not. The question is: Are you good enough? I don’t care where you’re from.’ I’ve never cared where they’re from.