Towson's DeFelice grows into his job

Standout: Hard work has made Ben DeFelice, the onetime undersized player, a force on faceoffs and the `heart and soul' of the Tigers.

College Lacrosse

May 05, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

As the boys lacrosse coach at Mount Hebron, Jeff Doolan watched former Towson High standout Ben DeFelice play several times in high school.

But the DeFelice he remembered was a small, skinny attackman who also took faceoffs for the Generals. That DeFelice bore resemblance to the player he encountered last year on his first day as an assistant coach at Towson University.

"We were going full field and [Doolan] asks, `Who is that kid facing off and going down the field?' " recalled Tigers coach Tony Seaman. "I told him that's the kid that you coached against for four years. ... And he said, `There's no way that's Ben DeFelice.' He couldn't believe the difference in Ben's body and his strength and the things he was doing on faceoffs as well as with his stick."

Even Seaman, who was the one coach of a top-tier Division I lacrosse program to extend DeFelice a scholarship offer, said the senior has far surpassed expectations.

As the Tigers (9-3) open defense of their Colonial Athletic Association title against Hofstra in tonight's conference semifinals, with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in their sights, DeFelice will fill several roles, though he insists he should be known as a faceoff specialist. His 65 percent winning percentage on faceoffs is the second highest in the country.

"There are so many guys on my team that are such better lacrosse players," said DeFelice, one of the team's captains. "I know that my role on this team is to get our guys the ball. Luckily, at times I can go to the goal."

DeFelice is fourth on the Tigers in scoring with 12 goals and seven assists, runs regularly with his team's offensive midfield and would probably be a starting attackman, Seaman said, if not for the physical demands of taking an average of 21 faceoffs a game.

He also plays defensive midfield and, if Towson has a lead late in the game, he will often have the ball because of his ability to absorb checks while maintaining possession.

"He's been the heart and soul of our team," said senior midfielder Alex Fountain. "Right off the bat, he's always the one that starts it off for us."

In Saturday's 13-8 loss to top-ranked Johns Hopkins, DeFelice was strong on faceoffs early, but battling against three different Blue Jays eventually took its toll. He won 11 of 24 faceoffs to go along with a goal and an assist. He still earned rave reviews from the other sideline.

"That kid is a winner and I'd take him on my team any day," said Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala. "I know our guys have a lot of respect for him. He's been a warrior ... and I'll be real happy when he graduates."

The soft-spoken DeFelice, whose brother, Nick, is a coach at Mount St. Mary's, seems almost embarrassed by the attention. He shrugged off a suggestion that he's an All-America candidate and, at every opportunity, deflected credit.

He said former Tigers faceoff ace Justin Berry, who mentored DeFelice during Towson's 2001 run to the final four, helped him make the transition from high school.

It was former Tigers coach Paul Cantabene, now at Maryland, who taught him some of the nuances of facing off, such as how to anticipate the whistle, and thrust him into a highly successful faceoff rotation with Zak Smith that started in 2002 and continued last year.

DeFelice won 56 percent of his faceoffs his sophomore year and 57 percent last year, but only this year did he emerge as an offensive threat.

"Over the summer, I worked really hard just to make sure if I was in a position to step up I could," said DeFelice, who had only four career goals before this season. "The biggest thing I did was getting in better shape just because I didn't know what it was going to be like taking faceoff after faceoff."

Seaman, who described the DeFelice of three years ago as a skinny little runt, said he saw him nearly every day last summer running sprints on the track or lifting in the weight room.

"He's the kind of kid that, as a coach, you point to and say to everybody else, `See what happens when you work hard. See what happens when God doesn't give you every gift in the world and you have to work for everything,' " said Seaman. "I take very little credit. Ben's done it. He's made himself into a player."

Lacrosse Q&A, Submit your college lacrosse questions to reporter Jeff Zrebiec of The Sun online at www.baltimoresun.com/sports. His responses will be posted later in the week.

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