Getting down to basics: You start with faceoffs

Lacrosse: Midfielders apply a unique blend of toughness and agility to get the job done.

Boys Lacrosse

High School Sports

March 19, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Ted Melanson, The forceful nature of the faceoff is best described by those for whom it has become a routine.

"It's you, another person and the ball. And for a split second, you're using every bit of energy and giving everything you've got," said Loyola's Ted Melanson. "And if you win [the faceoff], you've got to deal with the long poles coming on and whacking on you as you go running down the field in transition.

"Then, win or lose, you've got to believe in yourself enough that you can go back and do it all over again."

Welcome to the world of the faceoff midfielder, where a combination of mental toughness and durability is a prerequisite, a scooped ground ball is as good as scoring a goal and a scabbed knee or a mud-caked uniform is your badge of honor.

Players range in stature from the large and brawny, such as the 6-foot, 240-pound Melanson, to the short and stocky, such as the 5-foot-6, 165-pound Matt Eckerl. Some -- like St. Mary's 6-5, 250-pound Will Dalton -- even come in jumbo size.

But all must be "scrappy, athletic and willing to do the dirty work," according to Eckerl, who describes the painful starting stance as "like a baseball catcher's -- hunched over more with your hands on the ground."

"Sometimes, your back hurts from repeatedly being in the crouch," said Eckerl, an All-Metro at Calvert Hall who is now a Towson University freshman. "Your legs get sore around your thighs and your hamstrings, your shoulders hurt from banging against the other guy."

But it's all worth it to achieve your main objective, said Dalton, "which means getting possession of the ball, getting the ball into your teammate's stick or it can mean your team scores a goal."

"I take pride in winning the faceoff and moving the ball down the field to the attackmen," said Melanson, who is a possession midfielder, or FOGO -- a term that stands for "faceoff and get off."

"I take pride in what I do," Melanson said. "I see each and every faceoff as a 100 percent chance to win the game."

The process begins with each player facing the other in the center of the field at the "X," the proper terminology for the faceoff area, according to NCAA official Brian Abbott.

Each player grips the handle of his stick as it is placed against the ground parallel to the midfield stripe. The back of each player's stick faces his opponent's goal, and the ball is placed between the two heads of each stick in a four-inch neutral zone.

The two midfielders then become focused and poised for action.

"The No. 1 thing is desire -- it's between two sticks and who wants to win the ball more than anything else," said Dalton, who won 75 percent of his faceoffs last season. "It's a big mind game. The guy who wants it more is going to win possession of the ball."

The referee's whistle sets in motion the two powerful athletes, who try to control the ball through the use of maneuvers such as "the pinch and pop," "the jam," "the rake" and "the clamp."

"Whatever move you do, there's always a move to counter it," Eckerl said. "But the biggest thing is, whoever is quicker off the whistle is going to win."

But the mental preparation should begin long before the lacrosse ball is placed on the midfield stripe, said Broadneck's Beau Davis.

"You need to ask yourself questions like, `How do you counteract his moves?' and `How do I counteract his power?' " said Davis, a 6-4, 205-pound senior. "But at the same time, you've really got to be focused more on what you're going to do rather than what the other guy does. Otherwise, he's more in your head than you are in his. And if it's like that, most times, he's going to win."

A good faceoff midfielder is a versatile athlete. As a football linebacker and defensive end last fall, for example, Dalton sacked the quarterback 12 times and also played fullback.

Dalton has clocked a 4.8-second 40-yard dash, so when he comes barreling toward the goal, a rival's instincts often are simply to get out of his way.

"My size helps, and I have a certain amount of speed that I can use to my advantage," said Dalton, who scored 10 goals and assisted on 12 others last season. "You want to win the ball, get it to your teammates -- the guys on the wings or your attackmen. But I also love the fast break, where it's pretty much me versus the [other faceoff middie.] That's why I face off, knowing I can beat the other guy, one-on-one. That's just a great feeling."

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