ALBANY — Statistically, University at Albany men’s lacrosse sophomore TD Ierlan has been the best faceoff specialist in the nation this season.
By a solid margin, too.
Still, though, Denver senior Trevor Baptiste is generally regarded as the top faceoff specialist in the country — and perhaps as the position’s all-time best. Baptiste, along with UAlbany senior attack Connor Fields, is one of the favorites to win this year’s Tewaaraton Award.
Ierlan? He’s on the watch list for college lacrosse’s most prestigious award, but doesn’t get brought up as often as a serious contender as other candidates despite being on pace to set NCAA single-season records this year in faceoff winning percentage and ground balls per game.
No. 1 UAlbany head coach Scott Marr — whose team’s next game was rescheduled to 7 p.m. Friday at UMBC — thinks that should change,
“If the conversation all the last year has been how great Trevor Baptiste is, then TD’s got to be in that conversation, because he’s doing a little bit better than Trevor so far this year,” Marr said. “I don’t see how you don’t look at it that way.”
TD Ierlan said he could have been better today despite going 24 of 24 on faceoffs for No. 1 @UAlbanyMLax #NCAALAX pic.twitter.com/MxfPgaSh8Q
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 31, 2018
This season, Ierlan is leading the country in faceoff winning percentage at 83.8 percent, and ground balls per game at 15.1. In those categories, Baptiste is second (75.5 percent) and fifth (9.3), respectively. The two players are tied in points this season with six.
“He’s a tremendous faceoff guy,” Ierlan said of Baptiste. “He’ll probably go down as the best college faceoff guy, to date.”
Ierlan, with a smile, said he’s just stating the truth. Nothing more to it than that.
“I really admire what he’s done for the sport — the faceoff position, especially, he’s really changed how it’s viewed,” Ierlan said of Baptiste, the first faceoff specialist to ever be a Tewaaraton Award finalist. “When I was in high school, he was already the guy, and it’s crazy to see now that I’m in college and I’m competing with him. He’s the precedent for all us right now. You always try to measure yourself against that, but you have to focus on what you do well.”
Ierlan does a lot well. This season, he has twice won 24 of 24 faceoffs in a single game. As a sophomore, he has already set UAlbany’s Division I career record for ground balls.
“He’s dominated,” Marr said.
UMBC head coach Ryan Moran sees Ierlan as his team’s top challenge in trying to upset the Great Danes.
“He’s the most formidable challenge in the country,” Moran said. “He’s the most dangerous weapon in college lacrosse right now.”
By the end of April, the Tewaaraton Award watch list trims to 25 candidates. On May 10, five finalists for the award will be named before a winner is announced on May 31.
Ierlan seems a lock to make the top-25 cut, but is likely a fringe choice as a finalist. While the Tewaaraton Award is nominally a player of the year award, it traditionally goes to an upperclassmen at the end of a career — and that is how Ierlan sees the award, too.
“Honestly, I won’t lie,” Ierlan said. “I think Connor Fields up to this date, he’s deserves it. He’s the best player on our team. He works so hard and has had a hell of a career. He’s unbelievable. A great kid. If they’re going to give it to anyone on our team, I’d give it to him.”
Marr said such a take from Ierlan is probably a “bit modest.” The coach said a debate between Fields — the nation’s leader in points per game at 6.4 — and Ierlan has a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg feel to it.
Ierlan’s success winning faceoffs gives Fields — who will miss his second consecutive game at UMBC with a knee injury — more opportunities to score goals and dish assists . . . but Fields’ offensive ability also leads to more faceoff opportunities for Ierlan.
“So they kind of go hand in hand with each other,” Marr said.
Like Fields, too, Ierlan has the same response as to if it is a personal goal of his to win a Tewaaraton Award.
“The goal,” Ierlan said, “is to win a national championship.”
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.
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