A year ago, the Hood men’s lacrosse program was one of the best in Division III in winning faceoffs. This past spring was a quick study in reality catching up to the team.
The Blazers finished the 2018 season ranked 170th out of 239 schools in that department at 43.9 percent (165 of 376). That was a significant contrast from last year, when they ranked 15th in the nation at 64.3 percent (268 of 417) thanks to the play of Zach Kauffman (66.9 percent on 224 of 335 and 118 ground balls).
“That was probably one of the areas where we struggled the most with this year,” coach Brad Barber said. “Faceoffs are a huge piece of the game. I think we were first in the conference in faceoff percentage last year, and we were towards the bottom this year.”
Sophomore Ben Gilbert (45.4 percent on 138 of 304, 64 GB) emerged as Kauffman’s primary successor, but the Linthicum resident and Loyola Blakefield graduate was hampered by a recurring thumb injury from last summer. Freshman long-stick midfielder Bailey Meehan (31.7 percent on 13 of 41, 5 GB) was rushed into service, but Barber emphasized that the duo could have used greater assistance from their teammates on the wings.
“That’s nothing against Ben,” Barber said. “He played injured for pretty much the whole season. We didn’t have enough depth behind him. That’s where you saw freshman Bailey Meehan come in and take faceoffs just to create some 50-50 possessions. So that’s definitely an area going into the offseason that we’re looking to improve on because I think if we even that out — and that just doesn’t come from the guy at the X, it’s from the wing play as well — maybe we win a couple more games this past season.”
Barber said Hood is bringing in three faceoff specialists in the next freshman class to help fortify the position and create more competition. But he is confident that if Gilbert can regain full mobility and strength in his thumb, he will be the leading candidate to pace the team in faceoffs.
Barber said he appreciates that Gilbert missed only one game despite the pain he endured.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth there, and he knew we needed him,” Barber said. “He wanted to give it a go. We put the decision in his hands and made sure that he was medically cleared first. It may not have been his best year, but Ben gave us one hell of a year given the status of his injury.”