Faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly of the No. 5 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team lined up face-to-face with High Point’s Jamie Piluso to begin the two teams’ contest on a cold and windy Tuesday.
But something about this faceoff was a little bit different than what UNC lacrosse fans have come to expect. Kelly lost his first faceoff.
And his second. And his third.
On the slick AstroTurf of Navy Field, the Tar Heels managed to pull away and win 15-9, but UNC’s faceoff team still has a lot to improve upon as Kelly and Co. acclimate to the newly instituted rules at the faceoff X.
“Stephen was so good a year ago,” Coach Joe Breschi said. “With the new rules and the changes… You have to be patient.”
“To lose 20-8 in faceoffs and win the game… says a lot about this team.”
Unlike in previous seasons, in 2015, faceoff men are required to place their sticks down before the ball is even put on the center X. The official then examines their stick placement to ensure they’re legally placed before setting the ball on the X.
While to many the change might insignificant, facing off is all about rhythm, and when you’re forced to completely change that rhythm to the tune of new rules, it’s easier said than done.
“Honestly for me it’s been kind of tough. I’m still adjusting,” Kelly said. “You’re down in your stance for a lot longer (now). (Referees) are going to be keeping you down there for at least 10 seconds which can be tough just sitting in that position for a while. That’s been the biggest aspect of it. ”
Last season Kelly found a large amount of success as a freshman winning 61.2 percent of his faceoffs in eight games before missing the back end of the season due to injury.
This season he’s started out a tick slower against a pair of inferior opponents winning just 12 of 21 faceoffs against Furman on Saturday and 8-of-25 against High Point.
The beginning procedures aren’t the only thing that have changed the faceoff and thrown a curveball at Kelly.
Another new rule has made it illegal for a player to pick up the ball with the back of his stick, something faceoff specialists, including Kelly, used to commonly do.
While last season, Kelly managed to score a miraculous goal using the back of his stick, this season, if he takes more than a step with the ball in that same location, he will be penalized.
“It makes the wing play more of a factor and (High Point’s) wings played really well tonight,” Kelly said. “We have, I think, the best wings in the country, but for whatever reason the ball was squirting right to their wings.”
February lacrosse isn’t always pretty, and the Tar Heels’ faceoff team is a testament to that.
But that hasn’t diminished their sophomore’s confidence.
“I was a little rusty tonight, but the team backed me up,” Kelly said. “Tonight, in the stat book, was a rough night, but we got the W.
“And that’s all that matters.”
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