Long-stick midfielders headline lacrosse doubleheader

Maryland’s Brian Farrell and Navy’s Jaren Woeppel lead a talented group of midfielders, while Army’s Tim Henderson and Johns Hopkins’ Chris Lightner might represent the next generation

April 15, 2010|By Edward Lee | The Baltimore Sun

A long-stick midfielder is not considered an offensive midfielder. And he's not grouped with a close defenseman.

Navy coach Richie Meade prefers a different designation: athlete.

"He's got to be an athlete," said Meade, whose team is well-acquainted with all four long-stick midfielders at Saturday's Smartlink Day of Rivals event at M&T Bank Stadium. "If he's not an athlete, then you're giving up the middle of the field, which I don't think you can afford to do with the way the game is played right now."

Saturday's doubleheader – pitting Army against Navy at 4 p.m. and No. 15 Johns Hopkins against No. 5 Maryland at 6:30 p.m. – features some of the sport's top long-stick midfielders in the Terps' Brian Farrell, the Midshipmen's Jaren Woeppel, the Black Knights' Tim Henderson and the Blue Jays' Chris Lightner.

However, like pretty much everything in life, each player presents a different style when it comes to playing the position.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Farrell is the offensive defender, adept at both shadowing an opponent's best midfielder and turning into an option on offense in transition.

Farrell, a redshirt junior who has scored two goals this season and 17 in three years, owes some of his offensive tendencies to his years as an attackman for the recreational youth team he played with for eight years. But Farrell, a Baltimore native who switched to close defense at Boys' Latin, said he was thrilled when Maryland coach Dave Cottle suggested a position change.

"With a long stick, you get to play the big, tall midfielders," said Farrell, who has registered four assists this season and 12 in his career. "When you play close defense, you've got to guard the little quick guys. I've never been the quickest of defenders. I could hold my own, but I'd much rather play up top and have an open field. … Plus, when you're up top, there's more opportunities for groundballs and transition and stuff like that. So it's probably a perfect fit for me, considering what I like to do."

Farrell has marked midfielders like Virginia's Brian Carroll, Georgetown's Scott Kocis and Navy's Patrick Moran despite playing the last three weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Cottle, who suggested the position change prior to Farrell participating in the Under Armour All-American game in 2006, said he recognized that offensive streak in Farrell.

"Brian is a tremendous guy with the ball in his stick," Cottle said. "He's great off the ground, he's very instinctual, he understands the game. ... He understands how to get out and create some opportunities."

If Farrell is the prototype for the position's future, Woeppel might represent the more classical approach to the role.

The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Woeppel was a defenseman as soon as he dove into the sport in the seventh grade in Camillus, N.Y. He moved to long-stick midfielder during his freshman year at Navy due to a logjam at close defense.

"I really enjoy playing above the goal," said Woeppel, who is believed to be the first long-stick midfielder to be selected by the Patriot League as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year award. "I feel like it's a lot more free. You get to be more creative because you're playing between the lines. I love riding, standing in the middle of the field, and you're the one they have to get past. That's really my favorite part about the position. Before they get into the box, it's your job to prevent them."

After his rookie campaign, Woeppel was asked about returning to close defense, but he politely declined – which suited Meade just fine.

"He has a huge impact on the game as a pole," Meade said. "So if you have other good players that you can play at close defense, it helps having a guy like that in the middle of the field."

If Farrell and Woeppel are considered as two of the top players at the position, Henderson and Lightner might represent the next generation.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Henderson has just as many goals as Farrell and half as many assists this season. Henderson, a sophomore who leads Army in caused turnovers (18) and ranks second in groundballs (28), said he enjoys all aspects of the position.

"I like getting involved in offense and some transition game," he said. "You're obviously involved in the defense, so I think it's an all-around position. You can influence a game in many ways with groundballs, the transition game. There are just so many ways you can get involved in the game."

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lightner was rated as the top defensive freshman and ninth overall by Inside Lacrosse in a September 2009 issue. The Timonium native and Calvert Hall graduate scored his first career goal in Johns Hopkins' 19-7 rout of Albany last Saturday, but said he enjoys getting physical.

"The great part about lacrosse is the groundball battles in face-offs and the typical scrums," Lightner said. "I've always kind of enjoyed going out and getting after the ball and getting out and running and pushing transition."

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