Shirk's hits get lots of play at Maryland

Short-stick midfielder leaves opponents sore

April 03, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's Jeff Shirk won't be named an All-American, and he won't be highlighted in any scouting report. But when Shirk comes to town, be very, very afraid.

Considered lacrosse's premier short-stick defensive midfielder, Shirk transforms the game into his own personal demolition derby. He initiates some of the nastiest collisions, adding a word in Maryland's vernacular.

In Terrapins country, players don't get hit. They get "Shirkerized."

"You don't want someone to get hurt, but, to be honest, you're trying to knock someone out," said Shirk, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who is the son of former New York Giants tight end Gary Shirk. "Yeah, I definitely have gotten the white flashes after some hits and been shaking my head a little bit, not knowing what's going on. But you just want that adrenalin rush."

The No. 5 Terrapins, who play at No. 6 Virginia today, feed off Shirk's game-altering crashes.

Just watch a fierce battle for a loose ball and bam. Shirk clears the crowd for his teammates, hammering people out of the way.

Or an offensive player makes a turn upfield and crack. Shirk greets him with a shattering, concussion-inducing jolt, causing a ground ball.

"On the field, he's just a mean kid," defenseman Chris Lamy said. "He gets after you. He's not afraid to go through somebody."

For the best of Shirk's "Greatest Hits" collection, rewind a month back to the game against Duke.

After a Duke shot was deflected, the Blue Devils' Craig Schubert put his head down in an attempt to track down the rolling ball, only to be thwacked with a helmet-to-helmet crash by a charging Shirk.

Jarred to the ground, Schubert laid on his back for a minute and needed to be helped off the field by a trainer.

"He hit that kid so hard, when he got up that kid was stumbling," goalkeeper Kevin Healy said. "He had no idea if he was in Africa or in College Park playing lacrosse. I think it makes people think twice. You see them become afraid. The next time, he's going to come at you, and he's going to hurt you."

And Shirk was recruited by nearly no one.

As a senior at Mountain Lakes High in New Jersey, he played mainly offense and produced just nine goals and five assists. So Shirk pleaded with his coach, Tim Flynn, to make a call to Maryland's Dick Edell, who was actively recruiting defenseman Jason Carrier, another Mountain Lakes player.

And without ever seeing Shirk on the playing field, Edell was persuaded to take a chance and offer Shirk a roster spot.

"He fell through the cracks," Edell said. "He has developed into being the best at what he does. He's as good as I've ever had and as good as I've ever seen. Next to a goalie, it's the most demanding role."

Not to mention most unenviable. Offenses avoid close defensemen and ask their midfielders to relentlessly pick on the short-stick defenders.

Shirk not only accepts his job, but also aggressively attacks it. He'll body up against the opponent, using his size and speed to contain at all costs.

Like when he muscled up against Virginia's Jay Jalbert in the 1997 NCAA quarterfinals, pushing the Cavaliers midfielder beyond the end line with 20 seconds left. That turnover set up Matt Hahn's game-winner, lifting Maryland to the final four.

"I love it completely, because it puts you in the spotlight," said Shirk, the 1997 co-rookie of the year for Maryland. "Coming from my position, where I have two goals in my career, they don't even pass to me in practice. [As a short-stick defender], you know they're going to attack you. It's a good way to become mentally prepared. There's no way around it."

Many Terrapins acknowledge Shirk as the defensive keystone. Because the close defensemen don't have to worry about always sliding to back up Shirk, they can focus on the attackmen.

Actually, Edell has so much confidence in Shirk that he will assign him to an attackman and move a long-stick defender out top when the opponent has two strong offensive threats at the midfield.

Last year, he held Johns Hopkins attackman Dylan Schlott to a season-low one goal in the NCAA quarterfinals. And just last week, Shirk limited North Carolina attackman Matt Crofton to a single goal.

However, few realize these versatile intricacies. They'd rather witness someone getting "Shirkerized," a term reluctantly originated by Edell two years ago in a game against Hopkins.

Missing a hit on a Blue Jays player, Shirk slid across the slick Byrd Stadium turf and accidentally rammed into Edell, taking out his legs and knocking him to the ground.

"You can't create a verb unless you've experienced it yourself," Edell said. "He hasn't touched me since, and I hope that mark stays intact."

That mishap launched an entire highlight reel of bumps, thumps and crunches over the years. During film sessions, Maryland replays Shirk's hits in slow motion to truly feel the effect.

Finally, a time when Shirk receives the star treatment.

"Everybody goes crazy," Lamy said. "You know it's coming. It's like: Here it comes, here it comes and then boom! Shirkerized."

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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