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Up against rule changes, faceoff specialists have learned to make quick adjustments

Graham Tyson (left) of St. John's Prep faces off against BC High's Joe LaRosa during Catholic Conference action Monday.
Graham Tyson (left) of St. John's Prep faces off against BC High's Joe LaRosa during Catholic Conference action Monday.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

When it comes to taking faceoffs on the lacrosse field, certain players have the dynamics down to a science.

Every movement is calculated down to the millisecond in order to gain an advantage, and secure possession.

But this year, faceoff specialists are learning a new set of rules.

In accordance with a rule change at the National Federation of High Schools level, the MIAA changed the requirement for faceoffs in boys’ lacrosse, mandating that both players start the faceoff with both feet on the ground and prohibiting the use of an overhand “motorcycle” grip on the stick.

The changes are designed to prevent slower battles and stalemates at the Faceoff X when one player clamps the ball and uses body position to try to win the faceoff. Now players have to move the ball in one continuous motion, similar to a hockey faceoff, and the opposing team gains possession if a player holds the ball in their stick. Committing three such violations in the same game results in a 30-second penalty.

Reactions are mixed among FOGOs (faceoff/get off specialists) and coaches, but the early returns are positive during the 2021 spring season.


“It’s a good progression,” said St. John’s Prep coach John Pynchon, a former star defender and assistant coach at Providence College.

“I think it will speed the game up a little bit and make for a little more competitive ground ball play on the wings, which is nice. The idea is to get away from the single dominant faceoff guy who can just clamp the ball and hold on to it and scoop it himself. Now they have to rake it out and get it out quickly.”

Prep has a dominant faceoff specialist in Bryant-bound Graham Tyson, and Pynchon is confident his senior can adjust and utilize help from the two faceoff wings (usually long poles) to win possession. Sure enough, Tyson and the Eagles won more than 90 percent of faceoffs in an opening 16-5 win over St. John’s of Shrewsbury on May 7.


Tyson, who has been working on his faceoff craft since sixth grade, said he didn’t love the idea of a rule change at first, but the future Division 1 college athlete is starting to see the benefits.

“It definitely caught me by surprise,” Tyson said of the rule changes. “At first I didn’t like it, because for me, it was always ‘knee down.’ I never really bothered to learn ‘stand-up,’ because I never really needed it. It took some time to get used to it, but now it kind of feels second nature.”

New rules have allowed faceoff specialists such as Graham Tyson (3) of St. John's Prep, who scored a goal Monday against BC High, to get more involved in the offensive play.
New rules have allowed faceoff specialists such as Graham Tyson (3) of St. John's Prep, who scored a goal Monday against BC High, to get more involved in the offensive play.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

For top FOGOs who will move on to play college lacrosse, it might be a blessing to spend their final high school seasons learning techniques that will also be required at the next level.

Medfield faceoff ace T.J. Casey — a junior committed to UMass — has been learning the knee-down technique since he was 7. His cousin, Joe Bruno, was a faceoff specialist at Needham and later at Hofstra, and Medfield hosts several specialized lacrosse clinics every year, so Casey was truly a homegrown product.

But in light of the rule change, Casey decided to leave town at times to train with Joe Nardella at Faceoff Factory, a Natick-based training program designed to sharpen the tools of elite FOGOs .


Like Tyson, Casey was disappointed to hear about the new rules at first, but he quickly got to work.

“At first I was constantly worried about how my hips should be, or how my feet should line up, and I didn’t know the new grip,” Casey said. “As a [FOGO] you don’t want to think about it too much, you just want to zone in on the ball, hear the whistle, and go right after that.”

Quicker play off the faceoff has allowed more FOGOs to get involved on offense.

Teams are attacking more often right after winning possession because the defense can be out of position, and Casey capitalized with a pair of goals while winning 16 of 18 faceoffs in Medfield’s opener against Westwood. He won 45 of 53 faceoffs (85 percent) in the Warriors’ next three wins.

Strategy around faceoffs has become a bit more intricate due to the new rules, with coaches playing a bit of a chess game now that the wings have become more important in securing possession.

Dracut coach Paul Ganley recognized that more teams are using poles on both wings this year, whereas usually teams will use a short stick and a pole on opposite sides of the Faceoff X. Or coaches can adjust with a fast midfielder in the wing position, and see how the other team counters.

While Dracut senior Brock Desmairas started hot with an 87 percent success rate in wins over Lowell, he battled to a draw with Andover midfielder and faceoff dynamo Colin MacLean, a senior headed to Denison who is also becoming more involved offensively (he had 7 goals and 5 assists through the first four games).


A shortened offseason and preseason might slow the learning curve for these specialists, but Ganley highlights the importance of consistency for athletes with a chance to play in college.

“Personally, I feel like if we’re going to promote these kids and try to send [them] off to play in college, then the MIAA should adopt those same college rules,” said Ganley, who led Dracut to the Division 3 North title in 2019.

“Doing it without a year of practice is tough, but like everything else, people are learning to adjust on the fly and get better at their craft.”

Quick sticks

▪ Seeking the program’s first win against Duxbury last Wednesday, Silver Lake coach Derek Weckbacher had a clear message for his team: Keep it simple.

His Lakers followed that advice while trading goals with the No. 9 Dragons to keep it tied, 5-5, headed into the second half. When Duxbury scored three times to open an 8-5 lead, Weckbacher called timeout, and the sixth-year coach said, “The guys did the rest from there.”

Thanks to goals from freshman Jack Kenney, senior Jake Generazo, and junior Chris Broderick, the Lakers battled back to tie it, 9-9, before Will Cronin hit sophomore Brandon Cavicchi for the winner in a 10-9 thriller, marking the Lakers’ first win over Duxbury since the program’s inception in 2009.


Silver Lake also received three goals from Tommy Condon and huge performances from goalie McKale Cargill and Andrew Tilton, who won 20 of 23 faceoffs and added an assist.

“It means a lot for the group,” Weckbacher said. “All our games this year have been really tight so this is a real big confidence builder. It kind of shows the potential of the group and what we’re capable of, obviously it’s really exciting for everyone.”

Thomas Driscoll netted his first career goal in dramatic fashion for Arlington Catholic last Wednesday, when he scored with :02 left in regulation to secure a 9-8 win over Bishop Fenwick.

▪ Ipswich sophomore midfielder Henry Wright scored eight goals, including the overtime winner in a 9-8 victory over Newburyport last Friday. Jonah Orroth made 15 saves for the Tigers.

Correspondent Jake Levin contributed to this story.