It might not look like a game of rock-paper-scissors when two players trot to the center of the field for a faceoff in boys lacrosse, but that’s a complicated form of what it is.
The player who has the better plan to counter the other player’s move and is able to execute usually is the winner.
And winning faceoffs is crucial to a team’s success. Teams face off at the start of the game, the beginning of each quarter and after every goal is scored.
“Possession is a big part of the game,” Bear Creek coach Issac Nelson-Garner said.
A faceoff starts with two players crouched with their sticks lying horizontally on each side of the midfield line. The ball is place between the head of each stick and the butt-end pointing down the midfield line. Once the whistle is blown, each player fights for the ball in an effort to gain possession.
“Winning face offs is a mixture of power and speed,” ThunderRidge senior Brett Naves said. “If you’re faster than the other guy, you can win, but if you are stronger than the other guy, you can also win. So it’s kind of like a rock-paper-scissors match.”
Basic faceoff techniques include the clamp, jam and rake. The clamp can be neutralized by a jam. The rake usually loses to the clamp but the rake can beat the jam.
“I start with the clamp, but if I’m getting beat with a clamp I usually like to switch it up and try jumping him,” Ponderosa sophomore Andy Bauer said.
A jump is when a player holds down the stick of the opponent who has clamped. A player using the clamp quickly moves his wrists over so the back of the head is clamped down on the ball before the opponent. The jam is a move where the head and shaft are punched over the ball to block the opponent from any access. The rake is when the player moves his stick under the jam before it can disable him.
“You have to have the right body and special muscles. You need special reflexes and you need more shoulder power to press and you need good foot movement,” Wheat Ridge sophomore Tanner Spirek said.
But physical attributes just might be secondary.
“The most important quality for a faceoff player is competiveness,” Littleton coach Andrew Paredes said. “If that player has a refuse-to-lose attitude, he will fight and scrap for every loose ball and win them more often than he loses them.”
Paredes also points out that, as in hockey, other players need to be involved in gaining possession following a faceoff.
“An excellent faceoff unit can control the game for its team,” Parades said. “While the faceoff player himself is the central part of that unit, the three players combined really make a difference. There will be games when your faceoff player wins most of the balls himself.”
Good faceoff players are specialists and FOGO (faceoff and get off) has become a revered position.
Valor Christian sophomore Eric Pacheco is one of the state’s top faceoff specialists.
“At the high school level, everyone is really an elite faceoff guy,” said Eric Pacheco, whose senior brother Nick also takes faceoffs. “You are not really going to run into anyone with faster hands or quicker reaction time. It’s more about efficiency. Nick and I really work to be efficient on faceoffs. We work on not having wasted movements and being technical.”
Chaparral junior Brett Boos is second in the state in winning faceoff percentage and leads in ground balls. But he also plays some as a defensive midfielder. In a recent game against Ponderosa, he won 15 of 19 faceoffs by pushing the ball downfield and picked up six ground balls.
“Quickness and strength are the keys to winning faceoffs,” he said. “And ground balls help the team keep possession.”
A winning faceoff percentage can usually be traced to winning teams. Once a team scores, wins a faceoff, keeps possession and has another chance to score, it often leads to scoring sprees.
“If you don’t have the ball,” Valor coach John Grant Jr. said, “you can’t score.”