Facing off

The Baltimore Sun

Mikelis Visgauss, meet Will Dalton and Bryn Holmes.

These three guys will get to know each other pretty well Friday night at 8, when No. 6 Maryland hosts No. 8 Navy at Byrd Stadium.

It should be the normal Maryland-Navy game, complete with a lot of pushing and shoving.

And the game probably will be decided by one goal, with the winner having won the special teams battles or faceoffs.

That's where Dalton, Holmes and Visgauss come in. They are faceoff specialists.

Right now, Visgauss has the edge because he has been more consistent over an extended period of time.

But that could change Friday night.

"When we've beaten them, we've won faceoffs in crucial times," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. "I'm sure the faceoffs will play a big role in this one as well."

Winning faceoffs is important for a number of reasons. It helps control the pace of the game, provides more opportunities to score on offense and can help hide defensive weaknesses.

To find a major reason Navy (8-2) and Maryland (7-2) are successful this season, look no further than their faceoff specialists.

As a team, Maryland has won 115 and lost 93, a .553 percentage. Navy has won 102 and lost 79 (.564). Sixty percent is the magic number for most teams.

Visgauss is at .606, having won 77 of 127.

"He is great," Cottle said of Visgauss. "He is so competitive, tough. A lot of guys rely on different moves, but he stays low to the ground, and a lot of his wins are from the ground balls he picks up."

Visgauss eats up ground balls. He has 49 this season, sixth most in the country. In his previous seasons at Navy, Visgauss played other roles, but now he is the faceoff specialist.

"He takes about 90 percent of their faceoffs," Dalton said. "He is the key to their offense. He has a lot of different moves and is extremely scrappy. He changes hands a lot and jams you a lot. He gets the ball to the outside and plays you for it. He is very athletic."

Maryland's faceoff game relies heavily on the other two. Holmes has won 54 of 87 for a .621 percentage, and Dalton has a .489 percentage, having won 46 of 94.

The difference between the two is that Holmes is quicker and faster. Dalton is fast for his size, too, and the Terps like the muscle he brings with his 260-pound body.

Saturday in a 13-7 win against then-No. 1 Virginia, Holmes and Dalton combined to win 15 of 23 faceoffs, starting several fast breaks. Dalton had one goal and Holmes had an assist.

"Dalton is a local kid, a hard clamper," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "When he gets the ball, he is hard to deal with offensively. You've got to stop him, but he is tough to stop once he gets up a head of steam.

"Holmes is a little tough guy. The comment we got on him is that every game he seems to whack somebody. He goes in and plays with a chip on his shoulder."

It's going to be a hard, tough, physical game because that's the style of their coaches, and the way both teams like to play the game.

Four of the past six games have been decided by a goal.

Overall, Maryland is a big, physical team with a lot of huge defensemen. Navy's M.O. never changes. The Midshipmen just outrun and outhustle you. They never stop playing the game.

But the best game will be at the middle of the field for the faceoffs. You have three good ones in Visgauss, Holmes and Dalton. And then you have those wings crashing down trying to find the ball.

"I've always liked the way Maryland plays the game," Meade said. "It's hard-nosed, blue-collar, and now they've got guys like Holmes and Dalton making plays. I think there's going to be a lot of carnage at midfield."


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