Whispers about how the Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse team has been failing on faceoffs have filtered down to Mike Orefice, who said he's not above using those doubts as incentive.
"I think it motivates me every day reading that facing off is kind of our weak point," the senior said. "But I come in every day and just like Coach [Charley] Toomey said, execute when my number is called. I'm going to make a play regardless if I can't win the ball or not."
Orefice was one of several stars in the No. 8 Greyhounds' 15-8 victory over Lehigh on Sunday at Ridley Athletic Complex that brought them their fourth Patriot League championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In a pivotal third quarter in which Loyola outscored the Mountain Hawks 7-1 after a 5-5 tie at halftime, Orefice won five of nine faceoffs, scored one goal, and assisted on another. His final numbers included an 11 of 20 outing on draws and a game-high eight ground balls and made an impression with Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese.
"I think he's very good because he can get you and they can get offense out of him," Cassese said. "I think he's a terrific mixture as well. So they have a multi-faceted attack that is tough to match."
A drop-off was somewhat expected after the graduation of Graham Savio, who is the school's and Patriot League's all-time leader in faceoff wins with 710. But the combination of Orefice (41.5 percent on 73 of 176, 37 ground balls, seven goals, two assists) and Graham's brother, freshman Bailey Savio (44.8 percent on 91 of 203, 42 ground balls, two goals) have contributed to the Greyhounds entering Sunday's title game ranked 58th out of 69 Division I teams in faceoff percentage.
Orefice, however, remains confident that he and Savio are making strides.
"I think Bailey and I are a two-headed dragon," he said. "I think we both have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. When we're both getting going, it's really hard to stop us. Every day at practice, he makes me better, and I make him better. So it's just back and forth."
What Toomey appreciated about Orefice's performance against Mountain Hawks sophomore Conor Gaffney (59.4 percent on 214 of 360, 101 ground balls, one assist) was his refusal to give up even after Gaffney had beaten Orefice to the clamp.
"He just kind of kept scrapping and fighting and got the ball back on the ground and just kind of out-athleted if you want to say it like that," Toomey said. "Just kind of made it a tough play when we needed that play and got the ball going back in our direction. I was very impressed by that. It really got this team going. That's what the faceoff X can do."