College lacrosse's face-off history books are being rewritten right before our eyes
*All stats as of April 24, 2018
The men’s lacrosse record for face-off percentage in a single season is 24 years old. The record for face-off percentage for an entire career is 32 years old.
Now, in the same season, because of the two best face-off men the game has ever seen, both records are in danger.
Here’s where one might normally say ‘meet Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan’ except, if you know lacrosse, you know these names. You probably revere these names. In case you don’t, Baptiste is a senior for Denver and Ierlan a sophomore for Albany. They both take face-offs for their respective teams, and they both are outstanding at doing so.
|Player||FO Taken||FO Won||FO Lost||FO %|
|Steve Shaw (1983-1986)||1,186||838||348||70.7|
|Trevor Baptiste (2015-2018)||1,519||1,085||434||71.4|
|TD Ierlan (2017-Present)||749||562||187||75.1|
Baptiste has engineered the most consistent four-year career by a face-off man in Division I history, winning over 1,000 face-offs with the Pioneers. His career win percentage is 71.43, a number that puts him on pace to break the previously mentioned career mark, held by Delaware’s Steve Shaw.
|Player||FO Taken||FO Won||FO Lost||FO %|
|Mark Goers (1994)||214||166||48||77.6|
|TD Ierlan (2018)||293||239||54||81.6|
|Trevor Baptiste (2018)||276||214||52||77.5|
Ierlan is a wunderkind and he’s on pace to shatter Mark Goers’ single-season record by becoming the first player in NCAA history to win 80 percent of his face-offs in a season. In two years, Ierlan will probably break the career mark Baptiste is set to establish in a few weeks.
In this video below, watch how well Ierlan does a couple things. One, his speed is evident. He's over the ball before his opponent moves his stick. Two, Ierlan starts moving his entire body immediately instead of waiting to be over the ball. This lets him angle himself towards his wing for the pass once he wins the face-off.
And also, rewind the video and look at Ierlan's stance compared to the stance of his opponent. His opponent is back resting on his heels, almost like a catcher in baseball. Ierlan is crouched with his head pointing downwards, a way more aggressive stance that allows him to do all of these things faster and more efficiently than his opponent.
The impressive part, once you hit play, is how fast all of these things happen:
And this streak of record book rewriting all began on YouTube.
After his freshman year of high school in Victor, New York, Ierlan said he was better known for his wrestling than his lacrosse-playing. He was just another midfielder.
Then his high school coach asked him to give the face-off circle a shot because of his physicality from wrestling. Ierlan went home and searched for instructional face-off videos online. He watched a Lacrosse Film Room breakdown of Bryant’s Kevin Massa, one of his first face-off idols, and saw the way Massa got over the ball, how he pinched his stick. Then Ierlan went outside and started practicing, and it turned out he was pretty good at emulating what he’d seen.
He finished his career at Victor with an 83 percent face-off win rate. By his senior year, he’d started to idolize more modern players, and one of his absolute favorite guys was… Trevor Baptiste.
“I guess it kind of comes full circle,” Ierlan said, chuckling.
Ierlan said knows if a player can be around the 65 or 70 percent each year, they’re “doing really well.”
(If that’s doing really well, his season might need a whole new word to define its level of success.)
Ierlan also said he doesn’t keep track of his specific percentage, so he didn’t know the gulf between his current figure (81.6 percent) and Goers’ single-season mark (77.6 percent).
However, someone knew: Goers’ 12-year-old son.
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According to Goers, who now works at the Naval Academy as as Director of Physical Education Operations, his son William tracks Baptiste and Ierlan daily and gives his dad updates in the mornings. This is good, because Goers said he doesn’t think about the record as much as he used to when he was younger, and his playing days were fresher in his mind.
His initial hope, he said, was for the record last until 2000, so he could call himself the best face-off man of the 20th century.
That checkpoint was nearly two decades ago, and still the record stands.
“I got through that,” Goers said, “so I’m happy.”
Since 1994, Goers said the main thing he’s seen change in the face-off circle has been the way players have specialized their craft.
“We didn’t really have specialists,” Goers said. “We were trying to win the face-off in under 1/10th of a second. You wanted to pick it up and get out. I think the focus now is to ground it out, get control of it, dictate where it goes. Now there’s more science behind it. There are sticks designed for it, the kids get lower, their stances change. But it’s also cyclical. Some newer guys are going back to traditional grips.
“And the end result is the same. You’ve got to pick up a ground ball. You want the quickest, easiest way to pick up a ground ball.”
Goers’ plan of attack during his days with Towson was simple: get to his stuff first. He’d try to watch his opponent, but really believed that over time the better player’s stuff revealed itself in the aggregate.
Ierlan agrees. He said he tries not to divulge too many secrets, but each player’s is different enough at this point in their career that face-off guys can talk shop when they meet at games without compromising their skills.
“A lot of it is knowing your game, knowing what you’re good at,” he said. “Every guy has a different style, and what works for someone won’t work for everyone. So know your strengths.”
The one other thing Ierlan and Goers agreed never goes out of style in the face-off circle? Having great wings.
“I say it all the time: my wings and my coaches do such a good job of getting me prepared for every unit, every face-off guy,” Ierlan said. “I think I have some of the best wings in the country.”
TD Ierlan was a powerful wrestler, won a joust on a faceoff that lasted 50 seconds. BEAST.— UAlbany Lacrosse (@UAlbanyMLax) April 22, 2018
Goers always preaches the idea that a team of three always beats three individuals.
“You like to practice with your wings as much as possible during the week so, by game time, you’ve got a team of three working together,” Goers said.
And then, apparently, you go out and set records.