Controlling faceoffs and ground balls calls for laborious, not fancy, stickwork Players who pave the way lay groundwork for goals

April 09, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

They're the scrappers. The players who do a lot of the hard work before the goals are scored. The ones who track back defensively as fast as they push up on attack.

They're also the guys who would have preferred to play in the early-season cold and rain.

Duties include winning draws, scooping up ground balls, riding relentlessly on defense and whatever else it takes to get their team a win.

Westminster coach Jim Peters talked about the days when midfielders played all 60 minutes of a game. Those days are gone now with teams using three and sometimes four midfield lines, but there are still some midfielders who come close to qualifying.

"The 60-minute men. Back in the '50s and '60s, Navy would run one midfield line all game long," Peters said.

Prior to the season, Peters referred to senior Mark McAlonan as one of those kind of players. At South Carroll, junior Charlie Gibson scored four goals and had three assists in a 16-10 win over Atholton earlier in the season. Coach Jeff Alisauckas was just as impressed with the 10 ground balls Gibson got to and the 14 faceoffs he won.

After two seasons at the junior varsity level, Liberty senior Jimmy Fitze worked his way up to varsity last season and is now on the Lions' top midfield line this year as one of their finest two-way players.

Westminster is 4-0, Liberty is 3-1 and South Carroll is 2-1 -- each off to its best start in a long time -- and those three players are a big reason why.

Before any goals can be scored, possession of the ball is needed. That's where winning draws and collecting ground balls come in. Teams spend plenty of time in practice on both crafts, though both often go unnoticed. Unheralded, but vital.

"In the high school game, you have to own the ground balls and win the faceoffs to control the game. If you get possession of the ball, you can win games," Peters said.

"Ground balls is a stat the newspapers don't report, but it's a big thing," said Alisauckas. "A lot of goals are scored in transition and how do you get the transition game going? It starts with the guys who get the ground balls."

And that's where McAlonan, Gibson and Fitze come in.

McAlonan, in his third varsity season, isn't the Owls' key faceoff man, but he does just about everything else. He runs on the team's top midfield line, is on the field in man-up and man-down situations and his defense-first approach enables his fellow midfielders to play a more offensive-minded game.

"He does everything. Mark's a good athlete first, quiet kid, very smart. He's the kid who's always muddy," Peters said. "He just works and never questions anything. He's been scoring a goal a game for us so far along with all the other stuff I ask him to do and I told him we'll need him to step up on the scoring some. I said to him, 'We have to get three or four goals from you' and he just said, 'OK.' "

"Anything the team needs. Helping out any way I can," McAlonan said.

The day after South Carroll's win over Atholton, Alisauckas asked Gibson how he felt. The one-word reply was "sore." Faceoff after faceoff and grinding for those ground balls will do that to players. Gibson, who won South Carroll's "Ground Ball Award" last season, understands what has to get done.

"I know if I get the ground balls it's giving my team an opportunity to score," Gibson said. "You have to keep practicing every day and you have to want the ball. Faceoffs are tiring, very demanding, but the team counts on you to get the ball out."

Coach Troy Barnes said Fitze has been a big influence on the younger players at Liberty with his work ethic and desire to become a complete lacrosse player. Along with running on the top line, Fitze works on man-down situations and is the player who more times than not will come out of the pack with a loose ball.

"He's fast, hustles and makes a lot of plays for us that some people may not notice. He's improved every year and has worked at being a better lacrosse player and a lot of the younger players see that," Barnes said. "He works as hard as anyone and always comes off the field red-faced."

As for what each likes to do best on the lacrosse field, Gibson speaks for all three: "Playing more than anything. I just like to be out there."

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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