At Virginia, Kyle Dixon was more of a playmaker than a scorer. After the Bayhawks drafted him in 2006, the midfielder altered his game, recording more goals than assists.
In 2013, his eighth season in Major League Lacrosse, Dixon has gone back to his college roots. Although he isn't scoring as many goals, the Millersville native and 2002 Archbishop Spalding graduate has already set a professional career high in assists this season.
"It's definitely been a more assist-heavy season for me," Dixon said. "[Attackman] Drew Westervelt and the other guys are scoring goals, and I'm just going through the worst shooting slump of my career. Coach [Dave] Cottle has just told me to keep shooting, and I've been putting in time with some old Virginia coaches to try to get my shot back."
With two assists in Chesapeake's 12-8 victory over the Rochester Rattlers last Saturday, Dixon has 18 total this season, one more than his previous MLL career-best 17 in 2007. As the Bayhawks (8-5) prepare for the regular-season finale at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Charlotte Hounds (7-6) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, he is three assists shy of tying the 21 he had as a senior in college in 2006.
On the other hand, Dixon has only scored six goals this year — his lowest total since scoring three as a rookie in 2006 when he was bothered by a hand injury. The decrease in goals is somewhat surprising since Dixon scored 21 goals, including 15 two-point scores, and had a career-high 48 points to lead the Bayhawks to their fourth MLL title last year.
After opening the season with three two-point goals against the Rochester on April 27, Dixon has scored just three times in 12 games. He scored his first goal since June 6 with 1:16 left in last week's win over the Rattlers.
Dixon, 28, acknowledged that not being as productive as a goal-scorer can be infuriating.
"It's extremely frustrating," he said. "Nobody knows the pressure you're under to execute every day and get out there. I'm so used to being that scorer and when you've got to change your game and other guys are getting the goals and you're moving the ball and they're having success, it's tough to stay in the game mentally.
After he was deactivated in the Bayhawks' 14-12 loss to the Denver Outlaws on July 27, Dixon reconnected with David Curry, his former assistant coach at Virginia.
The two spent an hour at St. Mary's in Annapolis two weeks ago, and Curry, a salesman who lives in Annapolis, came away with the impression that Dixon sometimes puts too much into his shots.
"I think it's analogous to a golf swing," Curry said. "If you swing too hard, you end up losing control. When I went out and shot with Kyle, I noticed that he is really, really snapping it off. You'll see it in the way his body is really going into its torque. I just sort of told him that it's not especially hard to score in lacrosse. It's a big goal and what goes in at 102 miles per hour is probably going to go in at 96 miles per hour. So he's sacrificed some of his control."
Dixon is on pace to finish the season converting just 8.7 percent of his shots, which would be the lowest percentage of his collegiate and professional careers. But Cottle said a testament to Dixon's savvy is his attention to finding his teammates for scoring opportunities.
"That's what experienced guys do," Cottle said. "They make adjustments. Nobody wants to shoot it and not score. So, what he's done is, until he figures out if he's doing anything wrong, he's wound up distributing the ball. But he's always been a good passer. Kyle always makes the smart play. He's had a connection with Westervelt, he's had a connection with [attackman Ben] Rubeor, he's had a connection with some other guys. I just think he's getting more and more comfortable playing with them."
That late fourth-quarter goal against Rochester last week could revitalize Dixon's shooting prowess. At least that's what he is hoping for.
"It's just a confidence thing," he said. "Once I got that one goal, I felt a ton better. It was a huge monkey off my back. But I'm more than happy to create and distribute to these guys that are hitting their shots at a higher percentage. Now that we're in the playoffs, hopefully, I can turn it on then."
If you go
Opponent: Charlotte Hounds (7-6)
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Time: Saturday, 7 p.m.
More information: http://www.thebayhawks.com