TD Ierlan ’20 should win the Tewaaraton Award. Why? Consider the crowd’s reaction when Ierlan lost a faceoff midway through the first quarter of the Yale men’s lacrosse team’s game this past weekend.
“How on Earth did that just happen?” I exclaimed to my friend David, a Midwesterner who I take to lacrosse games to prepare him for his post-graduation move to the mid-Atlantic. Even David, who is still learning the rules of the game, was speechless.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me slow down for readers new to lacrosse. The Tewaaraton Award is presented every year to the most outstanding men’s and women’s lacrosse players in the nation. Think of it as lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy.
Despite the one loss, Ierlan — a junior who transferred from Albany this past summer — won all of his other 23 faceoffs during Yale’s 20–8 win over Dartmouth. This year, Ierlan has won 76.7 percent of his faceoffs, the highest winning percent in the nation.
There is also a faceoff at the beginning of every quarter and after every goal. During a faceoff, the referees place the ball at the center of the field and a player from each team crouches down and battles to secure the ball in the back of his stick. Once one player gains control, he has to pass it out to a teammate while still crouched down or play the ball into open space where he can collect it himself. With Ierlan’s quickness, strength and impeccable technique, he has gained possession for the Bulldogs on over three-fourths of his faceoffs this season.
Faceoffs are so important in men’s lacrosse that the player who takes them has his own position called the faceoff man, or FOGO, because his job is to “Face Off, Get Off.” Yes, that means that Ierlan never steps on the field for more than 30 seconds at a time. Once he wins the faceoff, Yale substitutes him for an offensive-minded player.
Despite playing for just 30 seconds at a time, Ierlan makes a bigger impact on the game then any other player in the nation. By dominating an aspect of lacrosse that was designed as a 50–50 ball, Ierlan has altered the outcome in several of Yale’s games and single-handedly carried the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs to victory in contests in which they have otherwise struggled.
With Ierlan at the faceoff X, you can never count Yale out of a lacrosse game because he gives the Bulldogs make-it-take-it situations in which they can overcome almost any deficit. Moreover, he makes it easy for Yale to hold onto late leads because it’s nearly impossible for other teams to win more than one faceoff in a row against him.
To understand just how much Ierlan changes the outcome of a game, imagine that you’re playing pickup basketball. Instead of playing “winner’s” or “loser’s” you play “Ierlan’s.” You determine who gets the ball after every made basket based on whichever team has Ierlan. As a result, the team without Ierlan scores only if it first forces a turnover by Ierlan’s team. Yale’s opponents have found themselves in this hole all year.
Or, think of Ierlan as a kicker in football — like a special teams player, Ierlan only plays in certain situations — who converts onside kicks at a near perfect rate. As a coach, you could keep the ball for the entire game until you had a punt or a turnover.
Watching Ierlan win 76.7 percent of his faceoffs this year has been one of the most captivating things I’ve ever seen in sports. I’ve never seen an athlete go head-to-head with another athlete — in a situation in which each theoretically has the same chance of winning the duel — and consistently succeed over three-fourths of the time. Steph Curry shoots below 50 percent while Mike Trout gets on base less than a third of the time.
To me, there is no doubt that Ierlan is the most valuable player in college lacrosse. However, is he the most outstanding? After all, the Tewaaraton Award goes to the most outstanding player, not the most valuable one. I’m not sure, but I think the selection committee should definitely consider him.
He’ll face stiff competition from Loyola’s Pat Spencer and Penn State’s Grant Ament. Both average over seven points per game, more than Yale captain Ben Reeves ’18 did last season when he won the Tewaaraton Award.
But a Yalie should repeat as the Tewaaraton Award winner because Ierlan’s 20-plus faceoff wins a game have contributed just as many goals to his team as Reeves did by scoring. Ierlan has carried a Yale team that graduated six seniors, all of whom were picked in the Major League Lacrosse Draft, into the nation’s top five.
Alongside some talented first years, he has almost single-handedly stepped up in place of six of the best players in program history. I can’t think of a better definition of outstanding.
Matthew Mister | firstname.lastname@example.org