“If you win the draw, you rule the world.”
That was the proclamation that Stony Brook Women’s Lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina made after his team beat Vermont last week. In that game, the Seawolves won 10 consecutive draws as part of a 16-0 scoring run to blow out the Catamounts late in the game.
Unlike basketball, possession in lacrosse is not alternating based on the last team to score. Instead, it is determined by a center-field draw, or faceoff. For draws in women’s lacrosse, the referee places the ball between the locked sticks of two midfielders, one from each team. When the referee blows the whistle, the two players try to wrestle the ball from one another, garnering possession for their team.
As logic would deduce, the team that possesses the ball more often generally scores more often, and the effect on the game’s outcome is clear. Stony Brook has an 8-1 record this season when winning more draws than its opponent. When the team loses the battle, its record is 1-2.
“If you look at two of our losses [against Florida and Northwestern], two 7-6 games, we were outdrawn 11 to 2 and 13 to 2,” Spallina pointed out following a recent game. “Those numbers are, when you lose a game by a goal and you look at giving the other team, out of 15 possessions, 13 times they got it, it’s tough to win games that way.”
The Seawolves had a rough start to the season in the faceoff circle. Including the two poor efforts against then-No. 3 Florida and No. 13 Northwestern, Stony Brook was beaten by an average margin of 3.6 draws per game over the first five games of the season — a troubling figure for a team with national title aspirations.
Performance on the draw, or “the game within the game,” as Spallina called it, has improved drastically as practices have focused on the skill more heavily.
“In practice we made that our emphasis,” Spallina said. “We did a 30-second draw thing where you win the draw, you take it and you have 30 seconds to score. If you don’t, you start over with another draw.”
Over the Seawolves’ current seven-game winning streak, Stony Brook is beating its opponents by an average of 5.5 draw controls per game.
In its three America East Conference games this season, the advantage at the faceoff has even been larger. Stony Brook has beaten its conference foes on the draw by a combined 56-23 margin, or 11 draw controls per game.
Much of the recent success can be attributed to the play of freshman midfielder Keri McCarthy, who has been taking the majority of the draws over the past few weeks. McCarthy, who began taking draws during her junior year at Hauppauge High School, has carved a niche for herself as a faceoff specialist at Stony Brook — a craft in itself.
“It’s all muscle-memory, your technique and practicing all the time,” McCarthy said. “You have to know if you’re going to push, if you’re going to pull, you have to tell your teammates. It’s not even just you thinking about yourself. You have to think about everyone around you and that’s what’s going to affect the entire team, because if you don’t think about everyone else, you’re going to lose it.”
In conference play, McCarthy has registered 24 draw controls in three games, including 11 against UMass Lowell, which tied the second-most in program history. When the player taking the draw wins the faceoff to herself, it is known as “self-drawing,” a technique that McCarthy has found success using.
“I’m definitely more of a self-drawer,” she said. “I like to push it to myself because I know I have a lot of height on people. And the quickness, I’m more of a quick mover. I’m not as strong as some of the other girls, but I’m definitely quicker and I focus on my technique … It’s all about my technique and my wrist work.”
One of the keys for Stony Brook has not just been controlling the draws, but turning draws into scoring opportunities in transition. Often, depending on the defensive alignment, the play off the draw has been designed to win the faceoff to one of two junior midfielders — Dorrien Van Dyke or Kristin Yevoli — who have used their speed to break down opposing defenders and push the ball up-field.
“They’re such scrappy players and they’re really quick off the line,” McCarthy said of her teammates. “I know the other teams know that they’re going to box out, they’re going to work to get the ball, they’re not going to give it up. So I think [other teams] definitely have a hesitation off the draw, which is good for us.”
Yevoli, who Spallina called a “nightmare to defend” in reference to her speed, has 26 draw controls this season, while Van Dyke has 29 draw controls — several of which have led to goals in transition.
“Dorrien was awesome on the draw,” junior attacker Courtney Murphy said after the team’s win over then-No. 8 Stanford earlier this month. “She jump-started our entire offense off the draw, and our offense clicked on the fast break — we killed them on the fast break.”
The Seawolves’ fast break offense has been prolific. Against Jacksonville, Stony Brook scored five goals within 25 seconds of a won faceoff. The team has had similar success against UMBC and UMass Lowell, two teams that Stony Brook took a 10-0 lead against in the game’s first 13 minutes this week.
“I think you can see when we get the draw, how dangerous of a team we are,” Spallina said. “It’s been a focal point and our kids are stepping up.”