Bayhawks face-off specialist willing to play through pain

Alex Smith has built a reputation as one of the greatest faceoff specialists in lacrosse.

Now the Boys' Latin graduate and Timonium native, is forging a new identity as a player who won't let pain get in his way.

Smith, who plays professionally for the defending Major League Lacrosse champion Chesapeake Bayhawks, tore the ulnar ligament in his left elbow June 4.

Many baseball players suffer the same injury, prompting them to have what has become known as Tommy John surgery.

Because the recovery process from his surgery will be eight months, Smith is postponing it until after the season.

That's called taking one for the team, considering the Bayhawks have no to one to replace him.

Smith says he has never a missed a game in four years in college at the University of Delaware or five seasons in the MLL.

Since suffering the injury in a 17-13 loss to the Boston Cannons in the Bayhawks' third contest, he's suited up for nine more games in the weeks since.

"If I was a regular midfielder I would have been done that day," Smith said.

Despite the constant pain, Smith has continued to play well, leading the league in faceoffs won with 177 winning draws.

Smith, 27, who is in his third season with the Bayhawks, has helped the Bayhawks to the playoffs again this season.

Fourth-seeded Chesapeake clashes with top-seeded Boston in a semifinal, at noon Aug. 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.

"There are games when every time I go out there and take a faceoff I am in a lot of pain," said Smith, who is only one of two players in the MLL's 11-year history to win at least 1,000 faceoffs. "I take a ton of ibuprofen and ice it down after games. But I will just do what I need to do. I feel like I would be letting my team down if I just went away."

What the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Smith has needed to do is rely a lot more on his healthy hand.

"I just have to put a lot more strength in my right hand," Smith explained. "I only have 30 or 40 percent use in my left arm at all. It's very tough to maneuver."

Bayhawks' defender Barney Ehrmann, a Gilman graduate, admires Smith for playing through the pain.

"The fact that he is playing says a lot about him," Ehrmann said. "After every game, he is very banged up. It (the injury) affects him. Wrists and elbows are everything. He is so tough to play through the pain. He's played so well. He definitely could be considered our MVP."

Smith is one of several local players on the Bayhawks.

Chesapeake also features Brian Carroll (Gilman), Justin Smith (Boys' Latin), Michael Kimmel and Ben Rubeor (both Loyola Blakefield), Jeff Reynolds (Calvert Hall) and Jeremy Sieverts (McDonogh).

But Smith, a three-time All-American at Delaware who holds several NCAA records and played on the gold-medal winning USA Team in the FIL World Games last year, is as important to the team's success as any player in the group.

If the Bayhawks advance to the final again, Chesapeake coach Brendan Kelly can count on Smith's best effort.

"Alex is at his best in championship games," Kelly said about the star who also captured the 2008 MLL title as a rookie with Rochester. "He was great in the world championships and MLL championship (last year). There is not a better face-off guy I would want. He is the best faceoff guy in the World."

Still, Smith needs to make the most of what remains of his pro career. He plans to retire after the 2012 to focus on his business interests. His enterprises include an ice cream shop and a restaurant in Harbor East and a summer lacrosse camp that attracts about 350 kids in Westminster every summer.

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