COLLEGE PARK - Coach Dave Cottle calls him the strongest personality on the University of Maryland men's lacrosse team.
Junior attackman Dan LaMonica says no teammate is as demanding or commands as much respect.
Fifth-year senior attackman/midfielder Mike Mollot, the subject of both observations, is the first to admit he is lacking in diplomacy skills. And you won't catch him apologizing for it.
Mollot is not just a two-position player who can pass, dodge and score. He is more than the second-leading scorer for the Terps, who are in their first NCAA tournament final four since 1998.
Mollot is the gruff traffic cop on the field. He's the guy most likely to jump in a teammate's face during practice for not concentrating or going hard enough. He's the one making the vocal adjustments to the offense in the middle of a game. He's the extension of Cottle, and it's hard to tell who is more driven to win his first national championship.
"I don't hide things. I speak my mind. Whether I'm right or wrong, I usually say it. I know that's one of my faults," Mollot said. "Not everyone on the team is that assertive and willing to say something. Everyone knows I'm here to win games. I'm not out to win friendships. I'm trying to win a national championship."
Cottle sensed this from the first time he met Mollot. Remember how a group of Maryland players protested the hiring of Cottle in the fall of 2001, after he had replaced the ailing Dick Edell? The complainers did not include Mollot.
"Michael just wanted to win. He must have said that five or six times to me, that he wanted to do whatever it took to win," Cottle said. "He's our strongest personality and our dominant personality on offense. He understands the game. He's very intelligent. The game is important to him."
Mollot placed such a high premium on winning that he didn't flinch last year when Cottle approached the natural attackman about switching to midfield. By becoming a swingman, Mollot helped the development of players such as freshman attackman Joe Walters and senior midfielder Ryan Moran, two of the team's top scorers.
Mollot also forced himself to become a utility player of sorts, which has not always made him comfortable. For starters, he admits defense is not one of his strengths. Neither is the type of mid- to long-range shooting required of middies.
"I'd much rather play attack. I like being on the field the whole time. I like to control things from behind the cage. I dodge a little better on attack, and it's no secret that I'm not the best shooter in the country," said Mollot, whose 38 points (19 goals, 19 assists) include a season-high four goals and one assist in Saturday's 13-7 quarterfinal victory over Massachusetts.
"Midfields aren't as quick to slide to me, and I don't blame them. I know moving to midfield opens things up for other players. I'll do whatever I can to help us win."
Said Cottle: "[Mollot] has to understand two different spots in our zone offense and our man. He has to understand the defense we're playing each week. He has to know the rides, the clears. He does a little bit of everything. You can tell he's a coach's son."
Mollot, who grew up on Long Island and played at Sachem High School in Holbrook, N.Y., learned the game from his father, Steven, the longtime coach at nearby Massapequa High.
The son got a little closer to coaching after Mike suffered the first and only major injury of his life. Shortly before his freshman season began, Mollot broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments while playing at a box lacrosse facility near his home. He sat out 1999 as a redshirt, skipped the spring semester and coached with his father while nursing the injury.
Coincidentally, getting hurt kept Mollot in College Park for an extra year and allowed him to reach his first final four in his last go-round. It allowed him to lead an offense that appears to be rounding into form at the right time to lend support to a superb defense that has carried the Terps for much of the season.
And it allowed Mollot to bring his energy to the practice and playing field for one more spring. LaMonica recalled the season opener against Duke, when Mollot took a shot to the head, hit the turf, wobbled off the field and rejoined the action before long.
"There was no keeping him away. How can you quit when you see that?" LaMonica said. "Mike is a hard-nosed guy. He doesn't dance around issues. He's not scared to stir up the pot. There's no quit in him."
Mollot makes no bones about what will satisfy him this weekend. Maryland simply must win its first NCAA crown since 1975.
"We're putting a lot of time and effort into this. I want to walk away knowing we reached some goal," he said. "Lacrosse isn't basketball, where you have 40 good teams. Let's be honest. There are only eight or 10 good [lacrosse] teams a year.
"I expected to be in the final four every year. That hasn't happened. If we don't win it, I'll think my time here was somewhat of a failure. I've never liked losing. I'm not going to accept not winning a national championship."
At M&T Bank Stadium Saturday's Division I semifinals
Syracuse vs. Johns Hopkins, 11:30 a.m.
Maryland vs. Virginia, approximately 2:30 p.m.
Monday's Division I final
Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.
Sunday's Division II final
N.Y. Tech vs. Limestone, 3 p.m.
Sunday's Division III final
Middlebury vs. Salisbury, noon