It actually is a compliment.

All the same, DeMatha senior Paul Rabil could do without the extra attention he has received this season -- the face-guarding, the double- and triple-teams, the gimmicky zones.

"It hasn't been very fun for Paul, I'm sure," DeMatha Coach Dick Long said.

Rabil, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior who will play for Johns Hopkins next year, came to DeMatha as a sophomore and relative unknown. Last season, however, he scored 42 goals and had 31 assists and was one of just two non-seniors to earn first-team All-Met honors.

"Last year, teams just played straight up, and I hadn't broken out yet," Rabil said.

This year has been much different. Teams know Rabil, scout him and then do everything imaginable to stop him -- often committing a player to stay six inches from him at all times, even when he does not have the ball and is nowhere near the play.

"I definitely think this year has been tougher than I could have imagined it," Rabil said. "It's been a huge learning experience. I tell my dad, I think the toughest part is getting into the flow of a game. My dad plays basketball, and I grew up playing basketball, and it's kind of like coming off the bench cold. It's hard to get into the flow of a game when you can't touch the ball as much."

Rabil is strong and athletic and possesses a ferocious shot that he can get off on the run with either hand. Long ranks Rabil as "definitely in the top five" of players he has coached in his career. "Potential-wise," however, Long said Rabil is the best.

"It's not fair to Paul Rabil, because of the fact he's been getting cut off so much," Long said. "I've had players who were especially good, but haven't been at the level Paul has been at so they were able to play lacrosse their senior year. He hasn't been able to play."

A case in point was DeMatha's historic victory over Landon last week. In the first quarter, with Landon committing just one defender to him, Rabil scored three times -- one off a feed, one on a one-on-one drive to the goal and one when he faked a shot, stepped past a lunging defender and then fired a laser. That was enough for the Bears, however, who shut him off the rest of the game.

"I love it when teams play straight up," Rabil said. "But most of the time they're face-guarding me and trying to deny me the ball."

In response, Long has moved Rabil from midfield, where he will play at Johns Hopkins next year, to attack. Long even put Rabil on the wing for face-offs -- anything to get the ball in his stick. The Stags, however, also have practiced with Rabil on the sideline, to prepare for the possibility he will not touch the ball.

Although Rabil's role has been somewhat limited by opponents, DeMatha still has put together an outstanding season that has included victories over Interstate Athletic Conference foes Landon and Bullis.

Junior attack man Danny Gallagher -- "one of the best attack men in the area, bar none," Long said -- has 26 goals with 17 assists, senior midfielder Colin Benko has 24 points, and junior midfielder Sean Calabrese and junior attack man Adam Dennis have 20 points apiece. Notre Dame-bound Taylor Clagett, meanwhile, has been dominant on face-offs.

The Stags were unable to complete a sweep of IAC opponents, losing to Georgetown Prep on Friday, but they began the week very much alive in their quest for a sixth Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title.

"The most important thing every year is for us to hold our conference winning streak and hold onto the title," Rabil said. "It's great to beat Landon or Prep or St. Mary's, but, like Coach Long always tells us, years later, you always look back at your championships. There's so much pride in WCAC sports, everybody wants to win a WCAC championship."

At left, Paul Rabil runs away from a Bullis defender during DeMatha's 7-6 victory Monday. Above, teammate Danny Gallagher (11) celebrates with Rabil after Rabil scored against Bullis. DeMatha Coach Dick Long said Rabil is one of the best players he has coached.