Each battle begins in a low crouch reminiscent of a sprinter’s start position, with the coveted ball lying still in the no-man’s land between the heads of the two sticks. Like two cocks fighting in a ring, both face-off men try to use their lightning-fast reflexes to control the draw. In a flash, if the ball is not immediately seized and put into play, the skirmish resembles a scrum. Two wingmen from each team scrap and claw for possession of the ball.
In lacrosse, offensive possession is a crucial element to the game and face offs are the key to maintaining a consistent attack.
“If you’re able to win every face off, you can completely dominate possession of the ball and completely control momentum,” midfielder Dan Kallaugher ’06 said. “Conversely, a face off win can stop [the other team’s] momentum completely.”
Kallaugher, who specializes in face offs, was ranked 14th nationally at the end of last season, winning an Ivy leading 57.3 percent.
This season, following a miraculous comeback from a serious concussion incurred in a February practice, Kallaugher faced off for the Bulldogs in close losses to Cornell and Princeton. He finally returned to old form when he went 9-13 in the second half of the Princeton game.
Against No. 9 Army, the Elis seemed poised for a victory when, five minutes into the third quarter, Kallaugher, who had won 12 of 19 face offs, tore both his ACL and MCL. In the remainder of the game, his replacement, midfielder Ryan Capilupi ’04, and the Elis went four for 11 and dropped their third straight loss. Although Capilupi is no stranger to facing off, he did not expect to be the go-to guy.
“Facing off wasn’t my primary focus because we had [Kallaugher],” Capilupi said. “But now in the middle of the season, the team needs me to fill that role.”
Against Brown, down 11-7 in the fourth quarter, Capilupi filled the big shoes and won four straight face offs. The result was a 4-1 scoring run that almost stole the game away from the Bears.
“With Brown, I wanted to win that game so bad, I realized that my team needed me to win the face offs,” Capilupi said.
With just five games remaining in the season and having dropped five straight losses, the Bulldogs need consistent face-off victories more than ever. A successful face off depends on more than just the player taking the draw. Instrumental to improving team face-off win percentage will be wingmen D.J. Barry ’05 and Brian Mulholland ’05.
“It’s a combination of skill of the face-off man and intensity and ability of [Barry and I] getting the groundball,” Mulholland said.
Midfielder Barry has been moderately successful in getting groundballs off the draw. Barry’s 36 groundballs are second on the team, which is made possible by long-stick midfielder Mulholland’s aggression.
“[Mulholland] helps prevent us from having to compete with other guys,” Capilupi said. “He’s an enforcer. Someone’s going to lose an arm because he just crushes people.”
But it looks as though the Bulldogs will continue to be crushed at the final whistle without improvement at the face-off spot and will be especially tested by the face-off abilities of Fairfield University, currently fifth in the nation with a 63 percent team face-off win percentage.
A bright spot for the Bulldogs is a face-off rotation that is growing in depth. Midfielder Adam Johnston ’07 saw a few draws against Albany Wednesday, and midfielder James Rump ’07 is at full-strength after knee surgery.
“Now that Rump is healthy, he might be able to provide another look at the face-off ‘X,'” Kallaugher said.
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