College lacrosse: Dominant faceoff man TD Ierlan leads Albany into NCAA tournament
ALBANY — Scott Marr thought about it, which is to say he thought better of it.
So, instead of offering up some last-second advice to Albany men's lacrosse sophomore TD Ierlan about how to handle his next faceoff, Marr kept quiet.
"Forget it," Marr said to Ierlan before even saying what he wanted Ierlan to forget. "Just do what you have to do."
And Ierlan did, which is to say he went out and won yet another faceoff.
That was Saturday during UAlbany's 14-4 American East tournament championship game win against Vermont at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. Ierlan won 20 of 20 faceoffs that day, two days after a 28 of 29 performance against UMass Lowell in the tournament's semifinals.
Those back-to-back performances were special, but have almost become commonplace for Ierlan to produce. After a spectacular freshman season, Ierlan has been better as a sophomore. Ierlan has won a best-in-the-country 83.4 percent of his faceoffs this season and has collected an NCAA-leading average of 13.7 ground balls per game. In both those categories, Ierlan is on pace to set NCAA single-season records.
Marr, UAlbany's head coach, played attack during his lacrosse career. He said he has spent time studying faceoffs, but never took one in a game. Coaching Ierlan, Marr said, is mostly about leaving him alone.
"I don't know enough to be a real critic for him," Marr said of Ierlan, who mostly works with UAlbany volunteer assistant Derrick Eccles. "So we kind of just let him do his own thing."
Ierlan is the type of player a coaching staff can trust with that kind of responsibility. He reviews game footage for double-digit hours each week, and studies up on the position outside of that. Largely, he is responsible for coming up with UAlbany's faceoff strategy each game -- including for the No. 2 Great Danes' next one, which is Saturday's home NCAA tournament first round game against Richmond.
"It sounds nerdy, but I could talk about faceoffs forever," Ierlan said. "Really. It's what I do."
Ierlan is always quick to credit his wings for their role in helping him win faceoffs at such a prolific clip. Truthfully, though, Ierlan does nearly all of the work on his own — and that is why he is likely to set that NCAA ground balls record this season.
Troy Reh, a UAlbany senior who regularly acts as one of Ierlan's wings, smiles when asked what role the Great Danes' wings play in Ierlan's success. While some games call for more action from Reh and Co., the senior said the wings' role is usually pretty simple.
"Our biggest thing," Reh said, "is just to make sure he doesn't get hit."
Ierlan would likely dispute that notion, but he will concede there are few people he can talk with in a meaningful way about his craft. Outside of UAlbany's other faceoff specialists, freshmen Anthony Altimari and Austin Jones, Ierlan has a small circle of FOGOs with which he keeps in contact.
He said he will text with Penn State sophomore Gerard Arceri and Syracuse sophomore Danny Varello about the position, and keeps in touch the most with his personal coach and training partner Drew Simoneau. Ierlan, a Victor native, started working with Simoneau several years ago, when Simoneau attended Nazareth College. Simoneau now plays for the Dallas Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse.
"It's a quirky group," Ierlan said. "It's a very small, niche community."
Within that group, Ierlan said, is where the UAlbany sophomore can discuss the more extreme elements of what goes into winning a faceoff.
"It's really the weirdest things that go into it — like knowing how your stick bends, how the humidity affects it, how hot it is," Ierlan said. "Knowing things like that go a long way."
The America East Defensive Player of the Year, our own TD Ierlan! pic.twitter.com/9V30aZYUHs— UAlbany Lacrosse (@UAlbanyMLax) May 2, 2018
In his college career, Ierlan has had a small selection of games in which he has struggled. After one of those games this season, a 14-6 loss against Yale in which Ierlan won 8 of 21 faceoffs to Yale senior Conor Mackie, Ierlan wasted no time pinning the day's loss on his performance.
"Pretty bad. Pretty awful," Ierlan said of his play. "He was at his best, I was pretty awful. All you can really say."
If both teams win their first two games in the NCAA tournament, UAlbany would face Yale in the national semifinals. Before that potential rematch, Ierlan would spend hours studying up on Mackie — but that likely wouldn't be necessary. After this year's game against Yale, Ierlan reviewed . . . and reviewed . . . and reviewed that game's footage.
"I think I have that game memorized," Ierlan said. "I think I could tell you what I did wrong on each faceoff."
Of course, a potential matchup before Ierlan could face Mackie again is the one lacrosse fans have most wanted to see all season: Ierlan vs. Denver senior Trevor Baptiste, who is widely considered the greatest faceoff specialist in NCAA history.
UAlbany needs to beat Richmond and Denver needs to beat No. 7 Notre Dame to set up that matchup. On Monday, Ierlan mostly stayed away from discussing that potential 1-on-1 showdown.
"Just worked out we could see them in the quarterfinals," Ierlan said. "That's as far as I want to go with that."
The UAlbany men's lacrosse team earned its highest placement ever in the NCAA Tournament as a 2-seed and will host Richmond in the first round on Saturday, May 12th at 5 p.m.https://t.co/CEOfXt8E9N— UAlbany Sports (@UAlbanySports) May 7, 2018
"If it comes to fruition, that'll be a hell of a battle and a great experience for TD," Marr said. "You'd have two of the best faceoff guys in the game going at each other."
UAlbany, though, has its sights set first on Richmond. As much as potential games off in the future hold tremendous appeal, Ierlan said the Great Danes can't think of any of those yet.
"We're only guaranteed one game," Ierlan said.
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This article is written by Michael Kelly from The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.