Thanks to Holmes, Terps not losing face

May 23, 2011|By Mike Preston

Unless they are dominating, faceoff specialists get no publicity. In the case of Maryland's Curtis Holmes, he has been so spectacular that he is getting everyone's attention.

On a team where there is no legitimate superstar and whose play is defined by a physical, grind-it-out style, it seems only fitting that Maryland's Most Valuable Player in the postseason is a 5-foot-9, 170-pound faceoff specialist.

The Terps have a good shooter in Grant Catalino, a strong feeder in Ryan Young and a physical defense paced by seniors Max Schmidt, Ryder Bohlander and Brett Schmidt, but most of the conversation after unseeded Maryland's stunning 6-5 win over No. 1 Syracuse Sunday centered around Holmes.

Holmes, a sophomore from McDonogh, won 11 of 14 total faceoffs against Syracuse, and the Terps controlled the game with a deliberate offense. And when the Orange can't run, they usually can't win.

"Holmes just dominating in the faceoffs really eliminated our possessions," said Syracuse coach John Desko. "You wrestle with him not only being a good faceoff person, but after watching numerous games that they've played, they generate a fair amount of goals off their faceoffs. He'll start fast breaks and they have a couple plays they set up for them when they do win a faceoff, and they have a violation play also, so it's a lot to cover and I think you've got to pick your poison."

Syracuse was just the latest victim. In the opening round a week ago, Holmes dominated one of the college game's best in North Carolina's R.G. Keenan. Holmes won 15 of 22 and the Terps upset the No. 8-seeded Tar Heels.

Next up is No. 5 Duke Saturday evening in the semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium. The Blue Devils already have Holmes on the brain.

"They have a great faceoff unit," said Duke midfielder Justin Turri. "The last time we played them we won only 25 percent of the faceoffs and lost by two. I'm sure we will be working on that all week."

Holmes is the latest faceoff specialist from his family. His father, Cory, performed the role at Howard High. Older brother Bryn, 24, was the top faceoff specialist for Terps last season while doubling as a defensive midfielder.

Curtis just picked up where his older brother left off. None of the Holmes crew is very big, including Travis, 26, the oldest brother who also played defensive midfield for Maryland. They're just these little, nasty, rugged, well-muscled machines who gobble up ground balls.

And they are all fierce competitors. All three brothers wrestled and played football and lacrosse in high school. But the best butt-whippings Curtis ever got came from his own brothers.

"I've been facing off since I was 5, and I guess I kind of grew up doing this," said Curtis Holmes. "My dad did it in his day and you can attribute any toughness to my brothers. They set the bar extremely high for me."

Holmes spent last season backing up his brother. He was on the scout team most of the year and often mimicked the opposing starter. Bryn Holmes was more physical than Curtis, and he played with an intensity that few could imitate.

Curtis Holmes is more of a technician. A lot of his success comes from his wrestling background. Holmes was a three-time private schools state champion at McDonogh.

"I think having wrestled is a key for me," said Curtis Holmes. "With wrestling, you have body control and you know where your hips are supposed to be. Wrestling is tough because you're involved in a great battle. I'm not the biggest guy on the field so I can get under a lot of guys, and that helps."

What bothered Syracuse was Maryland's ability to run plays off the faceoffs. The Terps have great wing players in long pole midfielder Brian Farrell and defensive middie Dan Burns. Maryland also uses Scott LaRue and Jesse and Jake Bernhardt on the wings.

Maryland has two plays off false starts and several formations on fast breaks pending where the ball is located and how the defense reacts.

"I always try to meet with my guys before I go out there and talk about the tendencies of the guy I'm going against," said Holmes. "Winning faceoffs just isn't about me. We have some great wing players, veteran guys who know what to do and how to push the transition. Basically, I just feed off them."

It's not that simple, and shutting Holmes down is even harder.

"If you really go after it too much and you have those situations cut off, then they're going to get goals in transition and goals off the faceoff," said Desko. "Sometimes there is a little bit of a concession, but in a low-scoring game where one goal can be the difference, you hate to take too many chances and give them goals off the faceoff."

Syracuse made a concession. North Carolina didn't, and paid for it. Others have bitten the dust as well. Holmes has won 126 of 202 faceoffs this season, and lost only 10 in the post season despite 36 chances.

"We tried different things, different techniques and different combinations," said Syracuse midfielder Jeremy Thompson, who was 0-for-4 against Holmes. "He was just in a different world, and there was nothing we could do about it."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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