Ortolani’s lacrosse career taking off
Since John Ortolani first played lacrosse at Billerica High, he has excelled at winning face-offs.
Even during his three-year career at Endicott College — a span in which he was a three-time All-New England selection, two-time All-Commonwealth Coast Conference selection and the Division 3 ECAC tournament MVP in 2008 — Ortolani won 66.5 percent of his draws, including the second-highest percentage (68.7) in the nation as a senior.
But for Ortolani to find consistent success at the professional level, including recently earning his first all-star honor from Major League Lacrosse, he had to stay patient.
Now in his sixth MLL season, the 28-year-old Ortolani is receiving the playing time that has helped him thrive as one of the league’s top face-off specialists.
“I’ve liked taking face-offs ever since I started playing in high school,” said the 5-foot-7, 180-pound midfielder, who is also a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
“I really like the one-on-one battles. When I got drafted by the [Boston] Cannons, Chris Eck was on the team already. He had defined his role there; he’s one of the best [at face-offs] in the league. For seven years he’s been dominating. I had a tough time breaking into the lineup [my first four years] not because I wasn’t good enough, but because he wasn’t making any mistakes and he was killing everybody. When he got injured [two seasons ago], I had my opportunity to step in and played real well.”
Once Eck returned to health, Ortolani knew his return to the bench was imminent.
Fortunately, the Cannons coaching staff anticipated the same outcome and acquiesced, though somewhat reluctantly, to facilitating a trade in 2012 to the Rochester Rattlers.
Ortolani has been nearly unstoppable ever since.
A season ago, he won 44 percent of his attempts at the draw.
This year, he has been even better.
Through seven games, Ortolani ranks fourth in the MLL, having successfully converted 51.5 percent (100-of-194) of his face-offs.
His importance to the Rattlers (4-3) has not been lost on third-year head coach Tim Soudan .
“I think it’s kind of been one of the missing pieces of the puzzle for us over the last couple of years,” he said.
“We’ve lost games by one or two goals and a lot of times it was because that possession time you get from winning face-offs makes a big difference. I think John has been a big part of our winning . . . it’s definitely a game-changer when you have a guy that’s winning over 50 percent towards 60 percent.”
When the Rattlers first considered acquiring Ortolani, they were well aware of his toughness.
“He’s a littler guy, but he’s got that wrestling and fighting background,” said Soudan.
“He’s a battler. . . . And one of the things that I’ve really been impressed with is he’s always calling the other face-off guys in the league. He’s a student of the game. He does his own scouting reports on guys . . . I really like that he does his homework.”
His selection to the MLL All-Star Game, which will be played Thursday night at Harvard Stadium, serves as further evidence that Ortolani’s consistent devotion and persistence, along with his aforementioned patience, is starting to be rewarded.
“Having John be recognized as an MLL All-Star is a true reflection of the hard work that he has put in over the years both on and off the field,” said Sean Quirk , the men’s lacrosse coach at Endicott College.
“As a student-athlete at Endicott, John distinguished himself against the competition with the dedication he exemplified. I am not the least bit surprised of what he has accomplished.”
Still, other goals persist for the ever-driven Ortolani.
Though he was a role player on the 2011 Cannons squad that captured the Steinfeld Cup, the trophy awarded annually to the MLL champions, Ortolani still aspires to be a starter on a title-winning team.
And there is also his MMA career, which has suddenly been put on the back burner given his ascension in lacrosse.
“I love both sports,” acknowledged Ortolani, who is 7-8 in 15 career bouts.
“As far as mixed martial arts, it’s something I do any time I have free time. I’m always at the gym training.
He continued: “My trainer actually thinks I should take a little bit of time off. I’ve had a couple of bad knockouts in my past few fights so he wants me to take some time off and really concentrate on skills. He doesn’t want me to get knocked out again and have a head injury and not be able to play lacrosse, because lacrosse is really taking off right now. So I think I am really going to focus more on training this next offseason and not so much on fighting; maybe one or two fights.”
Agganis Games lineup will start
on Sunday morning
The annual Agganis All-Star games will kick off Sunday morning at 10:30 (6/22) with an awards ceremony at Manning Field in Lynn.
The 17th annual softball game (Fraser Field, 1 p.m.) and 20th baseball game (Fraser Field, 3 p.m.) will follow. On Monday, it’s girls’ basketball (St. Mary’s HS, 6 p.m.) and boys’ basketball (St. Mary’s HS, 7:30 p.m). Tuesday: girls’ lacrosse (Manning Field, 5:30) and boys’ lacrosse (Manning Field, 7 p.m.). Wednesday: boys’ soccer (Manning Field, 5:30 p.m.) and girls’ soccer (Manning Field, 7:15 p.m.); Thursday; the 53d football game (Manning Field, 7 p.m.)Paul Lazdowski can be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter at @plazdow.