Whistle blows, he goes to work

Salisbury: Senior Andy Murray has turned faceoffs into a science for the No. 1 Sea Gulls, who meet No. 2 Washington College today.

College Lacrosse

May 01, 2004|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Andy Murray has ascended to such faceoff heights for No. 1 and unbeaten Salisbury University that some have suggested the reigning Division III Player of the Year has a sixth sense.

"It's like he hears the whistle early," said Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman.

To which Murray responds, "A lot of people tell me that."

So just what gives?

"He definitely has some innate ability or special talent to sense when that whistle is coming," said senior teammate and fellow midfielder Scott Simmons. "He has a great work ethic, and maybe he has learned all about the techniques and styles of certain officials, helping him to anticipate their whistles."

Whatever the reason for the success of the 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior from Centennial High in Ellicott City, Berkman said he has never seen "a faceoff guy this good for this long."

"So many things like injuries can happen over four years to interrupt a faceoff career," said Berkman, who will send Murray and the Sea Gulls against Washington College today in what has become known as the annual War on the Shore.

Today's matchup of the Nos. 1 and 2 Division III teams in the nation has unprecedented ramifications, with both teams entering the game unbeaten for the first time. The Sea Gulls are 15-0 and the Shoremen are 14-0 entering the 1 p.m. contest at Sea Gulls Stadium in Salisbury.

It will be a perfect stage for Murray and his 70.1 percent career faceoff artistry.

"I'm definitely not fast," said Murray. "I'm just quick. I never expected to be a Player of the Year. I do enjoy telling people I'm from Centennial because of that longstanding private-public school rivalry."

It's a rivalry that Murray has seen from both sides, since he began his high school career at Mount St. Joseph before enrolling at Centennial for his sophomore year.

Murray reached 81.1 percent on faceoffs as a sophomore, but his career percentage has been hurt by marks of 62.5 percent as a freshman and 65.2 his junior season. He has an advantage on faceoffs due to a style he has developed over 11 years of playing the sport.

"He throws the ball into the air and catches it himself instead of kicking it out to the wings," Berkman said. "That enables him to maintain possession for long periods of time. That's one of the main reasons we've won 34 of the last 35 games we've played."

"There's no pressure on me to get a faceoff, because our defense is so good that it can completely shut down people," Murray said. "Also, we're three to four deep at every position throughout the lineup, which gives us so many advantages."

Simmons, a team captain, said many opponents have gone out of their way to disrupt Murray by assigning a player just to harass him.

"They aren't trying to hurt him, just take him away from our offense," said Simmons.

That strategy hasn't succeeded enough to severely impede Murray or the streaking Sea Gulls, who have won 24 straight games, including an NCAA Division III championship, over two seasons.

Salisbury has a 63-8 record during Murray's four seasons. Murray has scored 19 goals and has 14 assists for 33 points this season, tying him for fifth place in scoring in addition to 133 ground balls.

"I'm like everybody. I like to score goals more than anything else," said Murray.

However, when a game is on the line such as that Division III title showdown against Middlebury last season, Murray will instinctively do what he does best.

He'll hear the faceoff whistle "early" at the start of sudden-death overtime, throw the ball in the air, catch it, and feed a teammate for the winning goal (Chris Phillips in this case, just 29 seconds into overtime).

Murray will then gladly bask in his role as the unsung hero for the Division III champions.

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