Back on March 16, the University of Maryland's lacrosse team was in a tough physical battle against Towson.
But no one took a heavier beating than Broadneck High graduate Andy Claxton.
Claxton, the Terps' 5-foot-9, 175-pound faceoff specialist, was being bludgeoned by the stick of Towson's 6-2, 195-pound defenseman Steve Kisslinger, who shadowed him step for step.
"The next week, his body looked like he had been whipped," said eighth-year Maryland coach Dick Edell. "He had so many welts on his back that he couldn't practice faceoffs for the first part of the week."
The Towson game was a rare occasion where a player has gotten the better of Claxton. Claxton and the Terps pulled out a 17-16 victory at Towson's Minnegan Stadium, but the scene is a good example of what the 21-year-old junior has experienced this year.
"Statistically, I had a better season last year. But this year more people are coming after me and tryingto stop me," said Claxton, who is Maryland's ground-ball leader with161.
Tomorrow's NCAA semifinal rematch against the No. 11 Tigers (11-3) in the Syracuse (N.Y.) Carrier Dome should be even tougher, primarily because Towson will have two of its best players -- the Tigers' all-time leading scorer Glenn Smith (37 goals, 10 assists) and midfielder Lindsay Dixon (9, 11) -- who missed the first game while serving a two-game suspension.
The seventh-ranked Terps (10-4) upset No. 2 seed Brown University, 16-13, Saturday to reach the Final Four and lead the series with Towson, 10-1, having won nine straight until the Tigers won last year's meeting, 8-7. North Carolina (14-0) is taking on Syracuse (12-2) in the other semifinal, with the championship game slated for noon Monday.
"It's going to be a great, hard-hitting game," said Edell, whose Terps are making the fourth tournament and third semifinal showing in his tenure. "A lot of these kids went toschool together and know each other well, so there's a lot of pride on the line. I expect it to be a backyard brawl."
That especially holds true for Claxton, since Dixon, his former teammate, is also hisbest friend.
"We had always played lacrosse together, and we still play in the summer," said Claxton, who as a Broadneck junior teamedwith Dixon to lead the Bruins to a 1987 state title. "We're both really competitive, and it's going to be interesting."
Dixon's extra-man goal with 14 seconds left in overtime lifted the Tigers over third-seeded Princeton, 14-13, Sunday.
"I called him to congratulate him on the game," Claxton said. "I probably won't be on the field at the same time, but I know what he's going to do most of the time, and he knows the same about me."
The Terps have won 228 faceoffs with Claxton winning 201 of the 310 (65 percent) he has taken. His stats aren't what he wants them to be, but that's because he's targeted by other teams.
"They'll just put a long stick on me and try to take the ball from me right then, or shut off everybody once I get the ball," said Claxton. "Or they'll do a five- or six-man rotation where each guy has a different move. After a while, though, I can usually adjust."
And that he has.
Claxton had a team- and season-high 25 ground balls in the Terps' 15-13 upset loss to UMBC, and bulled his way to 21 successful faceoffs in a 13-11 victory over Duke. In a 17-6 win over Franklin and Marshall, he had his best game of the season, winning 13 of 15 faceoffs.
"Facing off, my body is perfect. I can get more low to the ground and still have balance. A guy whose 6-foot-4has trouble getting
down. It makes it easier for me in picking upground balls," said Claxton, who has scored just two goals in his career.
Edell said, "Sometimes, as a faceoff specialist, you can feel like you're not part of the whole. But Andy has remarkable way of maintaining his focus. He doesn't score a lot, but he understands how critical his role is to our success."
Claxton followed in the footsteps of two older brothers who played at Severna Park, first pickingup a lacrosse stick as an eighth-grader playing in the GARCI leagues.
Four years later, as a senior at Broadneck, Claxton captained the soccer, wrestling and lacrosse teams. He won the county wrestling title for the second time, took an individual state title and led the Bruins to the team title.
On the lacrosse field, Claxton earned All-American honors for winning 85 percent of his faceoffs and scoring 28 goals with 15 assists to lead the Bruins to the playoffs for the third straight year.
He chose lacrosse over wrestling -- a sport hestarted as a 4-year-old -- because it left more options on the collegiate level.
"By my senior year, I knew I wanted to play lacrosse.I knew I could do better academically by playing lacrosse and that wrestling was a lot more demanding in college. Every college wrestler was like a three-time state champ," said Claxton, who carries a 3.0 grade-point average majoring in kinesiology.
"I used to be the fastest (at Broadneck), but here (Maryland) there were guys that could fly right by you," said Claxton, who owes his increased size and strength to weightlifting. "I was about 15 pounds lighter than I am now, but I worked hard and improved my stick skills."
By the end of his freshman season, he took over for Phil Willard and became the Terps' premiere faceoff specialist.