With 29 goals in 14 career starts – including a pair of behind-the-back tallies and one over-the-shoulder flip – Maryland’s Jay Carlson has developed a reputation as a goal scorer. But the junior attackman has developed an aspect of his game that few have noticed this season.
Carlson ranks second in ground balls among the No. 1 Terps (4-0) who are not junior faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa. His 14 ground balls are second only to senior long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt’s 15, and as coach John Tillman pointed out, Ehrhardt plays the wing on faceoffs.
“You get a guy in four games as an attackman [who] has 14 ground balls, that’s critical,” Tillman said Tuesday. “That’s 14 extra possessions from an offensive player. … That to me is pretty impressive. We only have  ground balls on the year, and he has 14 of them. That’s almost 10 percent of our whole team’s ground balls from an attackman. His ability to stick his nose in there and hustle is getting us extra opportunities. He backs up goals, he’ll set screens, he rides hard. So he’s really done a great job for us, and he communicates well with the younger players.”
Carlson, a St. Paul’s graduate, acknowledged that grabbing a loose ball is not as highlight reel-worthy as scoring a goal is, but he understands the importance of retaining possession on offense.
“When I score a goal, it’s usually just me being in the right place with other people making the play,” he said. “When it comes to ground balls, it’s more of a tough play. I sometimes enjoy getting ground balls more because it’s an all-around brawl. They’re both pretty separate, but I always enjoy the ground ball more.”
Still, Carlson is at his most dangerous attacking opponents’ nets, and he ranks third on the team in both goals (nine) and points (11). As the lone returning starting attackman paired with freshman Matt Rambo and sophomore Kevin Forster, Carlson knows he is expected to anchor the unit.
“As one of the returners, I think I have a lot of knowledge about the game and how we want to play it,” he said. “So throughout the week, I try to be more vocal and teach the younger guys what Maryland offense is all about. I learned that from the coaches and am trying to pass that onto the younger guys. They really have been very good in listening and doing what we preach day to day.”
While the coaches have leaned on Carlson to organize the offense, Tillman said he also improved his individual game in preparation for the season.
“He’s a guy that if you don’t pay attention to [him], he can beat you with the ball and without the ball,” Tillman said. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s become a better dodger, his range has really improved. That’s a credit to Jay’s hard work. We meet with all of our players at the end of the year, and we candidly say, ‘These are the things you do well,’ and there are certainly a lot of things that Jay does well. But there were some areas where we felt like he could have improved, and Jay being a competitive guy and a guy with high standards, he’s really bought into trying to be the player he can be. He’s worked on those things, and we’ve really benefited because not only has he made himself better, but our overall group better.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun