Perusing the numbers, Maryland coach John Tillman acknowledged that junior Charlie Raffa is the underdog to Bryant junior Kevin Massa. And Raffa agreed with his coach – to a degree.
“I suppose so, just because he is the No. 1 guy in the nation and I’m No. 2 statistically,” Raffa said on Tuesday. “So I guess that does make me an underdog. But it’s nothing to get mad about or overthink. I just want to go out there and play my best, knowing that [wing players] Brian [Cooper] and Mike [Ehrhardt] have my back and these guys have my back. … I know that all the pressure is not on me because my whole team will rally around me. So I don’t think there’s too much of an advantage.”
Among the juicy storylines stemming from Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal between the seventh-seeded Terps (12-3) and the Bulldogs (16-4) is the anticipated clash between Raffa and Massa. Massa is tops in Division I with a 70.8 faceoff percentage (296-of-418) and an 11.0 ground ball average. Raffa is second with a 67.6 faceoff percentage (169-of-250) and 10th with a 7.9 ground ball average.
“Statistically, he’s the best guy in the country, and they’re the best team in the country,” Tillman said of Massa and Bryant, who evicted second-seeded Syracuse from the postseason with a 10-9 win on Sunday night. “So we’ve got to kind of take that role that we are kind of the underdog here, and we’ve got to do a good job in that area, knowing that they’re the best faceoff group in the country. They have good wing players, they’re athletic on the wings, they have some younger, athletic guys, but also some older guys that can handle the ball well in the middle of the field. So we’ve got to really take a look at how we want to play our wings, what our schemes are going to be, and see what happens.”
While Massa may be an unknown to Maryland fans, Raffa is very familiar with his opponent. Raffa and Massa grew up about six miles apart in upstate New York and developed a friendship working several lacrosse clinics last summer.
“I think a lot of the faceoff guys from Long Island know each other,” Raffa said. “So it’s definitely fun to be going up against Kevin because we never thought we would. Now that we’re playing each other, it’s kind of exciting.”
The 6-foot-1 Raffa is three inches taller than Massa, who – at 200 pounds – is five pounds heavier than Raffa. Despite his mass, Massa is exceptionally fast, according to Raffa.
“He’s very quick on the whistle, and he’s a really strong kid,” Raffa said. “So I think those are definitely things that make him successful. And he’s great with the ball after the faceoff, and he doesn’t turn over the ball after he gets it. That’s what makes him great.”
Raffa's strategy could hinge on beating Massa to the whistle or tying him up and turning it into a grind-it-out affair. But Raffa said he also intends to rely on Ehrhardt, a senior long-stick midfielder who ranks second on the team with 57 ground balls, and Cooper, a senior short-stick defensive midfielder who is tied for fifth with 33 ground balls.
Still, faceoffs are typically a mano-a-mano battle, and Raffa said he is eager for the challenge.
“This is something you look forward,” he said. “Whenever you get to go against the best, it’s definitely something that is fun and exciting. Kevin is one of my good friends from home. So it’s definitely going to be fun to go against him.”