Every championship team has to have plenty of good things go right over the course of a special season.
For the McDonogh boys lacrosse team, which claimed the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference crown last season, one of the biggest pushes came from something that wasn't going well.
The Eagles were struggling against perennial power Bullis in a non-conference game early in the season and BJ Farrare was having a particularly tough time with his assignments at close defense.
In the second half, the sophomore was moved to long stick midfielder.
Fast forward to McDonogh's 8-5 win over Boys' Latin in championship game: Farrare scooped up five ground balls and caused four turnovers — a dominating performance.
Attackmen score big goals and goalies make timely saves. Long stick midfielders do much of the grinding two-way work that takes place in between.
Farrare, an All-Metro first team selection last season, is one of a number of fine long poles set to be difference-makers in their own way this season. Others include Boys' Latin junior Michael Ubriaco, Oakland Mills senior Evan Riss and Hereford senior Scott Middleton.
For Farrare, the adjustment to long pole from close defense came quickly. He has thrived in the open space, getting the most out of his game-changing speed and aggressive but smart play.
"I dedicated myself to getting the ball up fast and out quick, and being more technical in the middle of the field so I could get our attack more possessions and allow us to have more time on offense instead of spending a lot of time on defense," he said. "I've definitely grown to love the position and wouldn't want to play anywhere else."
It's no surprise that many of the area's top high school coaches saw time at long-stick midfield during their playing days. Among them: Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly and Gilman's Brooks Matthews at North Carolina; Severn coach Jamie McNealey at Johns Hopkins; McDonogh assistant and future St. Paul's coach Trey Whitty at Virginia; and Boys' Latin's Brian Farrell at Maryland.
The position is demanding with multiple responsibilities. It requires a player that can make quick and smart decisions with more freedom than other positions. A high lacrosse IQ is a must.
"In my opinion, it's the most fun position to play in lacrosse," Farrell said. "You have to be in a way the most versatile player because you have to do a lot of things. You're on every wing on faceoffs, so your ground ball play has to be pretty good. You have to play defense and understand defensive concepts for that. You also have to have the ability to push into transition, and you have to have some offensive ability too."
Oakland Mills has never been a lacrosse hotbed, but Riss has done much to help change that. Entering his fourth season as a starter, the Ohio State commit has put new meaning into the term "do-it-all player" with some staggering career numbers that support the positon's versatility claim: 94 goals, 66 assists, 106 caused turnovers and a whopping 398 ground balls.
Oakland Mills coach Mark Darden says if Riss is 15 yards away from a ground ball and an opponent is just five, Riss believes it still belongs to him. And then he goes and gets it. Riss, who played close defense when he was younger, likes the idea of being able to get the ball and go.
"Playing close, you're down low on the attackmen, so when you're trying to break out you're starting out low and it puts you at a disadvantage. But when you're up top, you can make a move and then you're off in space," he said. "I think LSM, just overall, makes me a more confident player… because it has allowed me to try new things as a player which made me better."
Ubriaco agrees it's a position that makes you think more, improvise and become a more complete player.
"Having that freedom helps my game so much because I like to take chances with checks and try to push in transition," he said. "So for me, personally, I love having the freedom of being able to do more than just one thing."
After reaching the Class 3A-2A state semifinals and finishing 17-2, perennial public school power Hereford is primed for a run at another state championship. Middleton, who has committed to Loyola, is doing what he can to help the cause.
"I love being able to control the game and how long sticker midfield is more of a team position. I can't wait for the season. I'm ecstatic," he said.