At Loyola, faceoff specialists happy to fill niche role

Senior John Schiavone leads unit that aims to be best in the country

February 24, 2011|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

In two seasons as the primary faceoff specialist for the Loyola men's lacrosse team, John Schiavone has scored a grand total of two goals and assisted on three others.

And the senior is fine with that.

"Everybody wants to score goals, but as of now, I've come to understand my role, and I love what I do," the self-described FOGO (Face Off, Get Off) said. "I'm pretty content with it. When I was younger and a little less knowledgeable about how people play very specific roles, I wanted to play more offense and do this and do that and take shots. But now I've put myself in a position where I can kind of make offense for myself if I really want to."

That attitude illustrates how the Greyhounds, who represent one of the smaller Division I schools with lacrosse programs in the country, have become a faceoff factory in recent years.

In three of the last four seasons, Loyola's faceoff unit has finished in the top six nationally in win percentage. Over that same span, an individual has ranked among the top nine in faceoff percentage.

Coach Charley Toomey compared the value of his team's faceoff unit to that of a kicker for a football team.

"When you have a chance to have three points and you're inside the 35[-yard line], you're throwing that guy out there. That's certainly the way we feel," he said. "We feel that if we have an opportunity to get John on the field, we want him out there because we feel it's another possession."

That confidence played out in the No. 12 Greyhounds' season-opening 9-8 win against Navy six days ago. After splitting the 12 first-half faceoffs, Schiavone — with the aid of sophomore midfielder Josh Hawkins and sophomore long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff — won all five restarts in the third quarter and 3-of-4 in the final stanza en route to a 14-of-21 performance for the game.

That facet was overshadowed by sophomore attackman Patrick Fanshaw's game-winning goal with 68 seconds left in regulation and sophomore attackman Mike Sawyer's game-high three goals, but Ratliff said the faceoff unit was proud of its showing.

"You're not scoring goals or getting big takeaways, but I definitely think it's the blue-collar part of the game," Ratliff said. "… I think when it comes down to it, it's just a hustle position. It's about desire and wanting the ball more than the other kid."

Toomey and the players agree that a significant portion of the team's success on faceoffs should be credited to volunteer assistant coach Steve Vaikness. A former faceoff specialist who won 116-of-191 in his senior year for Loyola, Vaikness was hired in the spring of 2006 to revamp the unit.

Under Vaikness' guidance, the team finished fourth in the country in faceoff percentage in 2007, fifth in 2009 and sixth in 2010. Individually, Dan Kallaugher ranked third after winning 64.7 percent of his restarts in 2007, Tim McDermott was ninth (58.6) in 2008, and Schiavone finished fourth (58.7) and fifth (59.9) in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Vaikness — who commutes daily from his home in Towson to his job with a residential developer in Washington, D.C, to practice at the Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore — said a successful faceoff specialist excels because of his determination.

"I think it's more of an attitude," he said. "The guys that are the best at it are going to be your pit bull-type guys, guys who will stick their heads in there and bang and scrap. Those are the kind of guys we're looking for."

Vaikness, who is well-loved by his players for his easygoing demeanor, is unafraid to tinker with a player's techniques or toss aside his pre-game strategy. When Schiavone joined the team in 2008, Vaikness altered his grip, his stance and his diet.

After a less-than-flattering performance against Navy in the first half, Vaikness directed Hawkins and Ratliff to "box out" their opponents and collect ground balls caused by Schiavone's battle with junior Logan West.

"He's great at making adjustments," said Hawkins, who posted a game-high seven ground balls against Navy. "I think a lot of times, when we start to get angry because things aren't going our way, he can kind of calm us down and look at the strategic side of things and help us fix it."

Toomey said the faceoff unit's value is enhanced after an opponent scores a goal, which can spark a run.

"The toughest thing in lacrosse — and in any sport — is to stop a run," he said. "And you really want to limit teams from going on runs. We feel like we've got an opportunity — if we give up a goal — to get the momentum back with a win at the faceoff X. And the flipside is, if we're fortunate enough to score a goal, we could really go on a run of our own by having the ball again on our next possession. That's something we really take to heart. The guys believe in it, they understand how we want to play, and that's a way for us to play a little faster."

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