Women of Troy searching for elusive road sweep

first_imgThis weekend the No. 16 USC women’s volleyball team will try to do what every team has struggled to do in the Pac-10 this season: win on the road.In what might be the toughest women’s volleyball conference of all time — eight teams in the Pac-10 are ranked in the Coaches Top 25 Poll — the Women of Troy will try to reverse a conference trend and record two victories this weekend away from their home court.Led by sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter and senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin, USC (15-6, 4-5) will travel to Northern California to face No. 4 Stanford (14-5, 7-2) tonight and No. 14 Cal (12-7, 5-4) Saturday in two road matches that the Women of Troy must win in order to keep their conference title hopes alive.Although USC dropped four straight matches heading into last weekend, the Women of Troy swept both Oregon and Oregon State at the Galen Center. USC coach Mick Haley hopes that his team’s recent success has given his players the poise to play successfully on the road.“I think we’ve got our confidence back,” Haley said. “We have a clear vision of what we’re trying to do and where we can go with this.”The Cardinal, however, is sure to put USC’s confidence to test. Stanford is arguably the conference’s best team and swept USC (25-23, 35-33, 25-18) at the Galen Center in three tight matches earlier this season. Still, USC feels it can fix the small errors that cost it the match on Oct. 3 and pull out a big road victory.“We don’t feel like this is an insurmountable task,” Haley said. “We feel confident that we are right on the same level with Stanford, and we know that if we can win two this weekend, we’re back in the hunt for the conference championship.”Stanford, the highest ranked team in the conference, averages 13.92 kills per set and 2.58 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa leads the team with 199 kills (2.76 kps) for a .373 hitting percentage and is second in the Pac-10 in blocking (1.33 bps). Junior outside hitter Alix Klineman has a team-leading 273 kills (3.96 kps) with 154 digs (2.23 dps) and 39 blocks (0.57 bps).While Stanford focuses more on moving the ball around to set up their attack, Cal relies on its aggressiveness to score, which can also pose a challenge to the Women of Troy as well.USC beat Cal in a five-set thriller (22-25, 29-27, 25-19, 16-25, 22-20) earlier this season at the Galen Center and will look to post another victory over its cross-state rival Saturday. USC-Cal battles are always tight and tend to go the distance before either team posts a win.“We always felt we played pretty well at Cal,” Haley said. “We have a lot to prove in ourselves going back up there.”The Golden Bears average 13.96 kills per set and 2.63 blocks per set and are third among Pac-10 teams with a .274 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Hana Cutura has 360 kills (5.07 kps) and 396.0 points (5.58 pps) and leads all Pac-10 players in kills and points. Senior middle hitter Mindi Wiley is third among Pac-10 players in hitting percentage (.378) and has 74 blocks (1.04 bps) with 180 kills (2.54 kps).With two tough opponents ahead, Haley is looking for his team to make a statement on the road and start moving up the conference ladder.“All the Pac-10 teams have been winning at home and losing on the road,” he said. “We need to go into somebody else’s house and start winning, and we need to do it two times this weekend.”last_img read more

How Syracuse men’s lacrosse adopted the faceoff culture

first_imgThat includes three overtime losses, two of which he lost the opening faceoff in extra time and the opponent won on the ensuing possession. It’s the only knock on his short, yet decorated collegiate resume, and he knows it. The game-changing faceoff has eluded Williams, and he’s hell-bent on fixing his late-game failures to validate his program’s investment in him.As SU stares down its first NCAA tournament opponent on Sunday, Williams could be the difference between an early exit or a national championship.“The more you’re in (crucial faceoffs), the more comfortable you get there,” Williams said. “It’s just another faceoff and you’ve just got to go out there with the mentality that you’re going to get your team the ball.“We’re not saving lives, it’s just a faceoff.”But that simple task is exactly what SU is leaning on to break its longest championship drought since prior to 1983.One of the most celebrated lacrosse programs ever is wagering its present-day legacy on Williams and the faceoff. It was a new direction birthed from an embarrassing mess on the national stage, and Syracuse has done nearly all it can to clean up. What’s left is for Williams to make his own season-ending highlight reel — one he ends with a ring.Logan Reidsma | Senior Staff Photographer Comments Even with his playing days a handful of decades behind him, Donahue knows some things never changed with the faceoff. The quickest clamper at the X is still king in Donahue’s mind. “If you’re not a clamper, you’ve got to figure out how to be a clamper,” he’ll say. But if nothing else, Donahue’s keen on change. The method to winning faceoffs has evolved, and now Donahue’s tweaking stances and angles to the ball.To his unit of five faceoff men at Syracuse, a group that affectionately refers to itself as “The Sandbox,” Donahue preaches an oversimplified technique at the X before adjusting: Knee down, head leaned in and use power from your legs to trap the ball.“Coach Donahue is a scientist when it comes to this stuff,” junior specialist Joe DeMarco said. “He studies it more than anybody I’ve ever met. Working with him, I think understanding the technique is the biggest thing.”Coach Donahue is a scientist when it comes to this stuff. He studies it more than anybody I’ve ever met. Working with him, I think understanding the technique is the biggest thing.SU junior faceoff specialist Joe DemarcoDonahue’s become renowned for his knowledge, and it’s set Syracuse apart in its recruiting efforts. He managed to coach up Daddio through the rest of 2014. Daddio finished seven of his final 12 games above 50 percent in faceoffs. But what Donahue needed was a blank canvas. A player he could mold early.Desko could now deliver recruiting pitches with the promise of extra care being given to the faceoff specialists. That in fact, his program had a specialist for the specialists.Finding their manFormer Holy Cross head coach Jim Morrissey will be the first to say Minnesota is far from a lacrosse hotbed. Top-shelf talent is almost nonexistent, and lacrosse programs shrivel in the shadow of the Northeast’s kingpins.But Morrissey, leading a sub-par Crusaders program, felt he couldn’t pass up any recruiting email he received. Including one from Ben Williams, a lieutenant colonel at Saint Thomas Academy, a military high school on the periphery of Minneapolis.“I was the lucky one,” Morrissey said. “Us coaches get a million emails. I was the lucky one that said I need to read pretty much every email, because who was I not to turn over every stone?“Luckily I turned over that stone and there was Ben Williams.”In Williams’ first and only season under Morrissey in 2014, he largely self-taught his way to a 53-percent faceoff clip. But he sought more out of his skill set. More out of a program than just going off on his own in practice to try new faceoff methods he occasionally picked off YouTube.He sought top-level competition and believed he was that caliber of a player.Never did Williams think Syracuse would be his platform to face the country’s best players, but that’s what happened once Donahue caught wind of Williams’ availability. He asked Gurenlian to watch the film on the Holy Cross freshman, and the faceoff connoisseur saw “immense potential.”“(You) can’t miss out on this kid,” Gurenlian told Donahue. “He’s special.”Aaron Na | Contributing Photographer That’s largely what it took for Syracuse’s prized possession to come into form, and he set an immediate precedent. He won 17-of-20 faceoffs against Siena in his first game with the Orange.An SU community long familiar with the run-and-gun, transition offense of Roy Simmons Jr.’s teams was submerged in déjà vu. Syracuse was running an adjusted form of the same operation, this time only using half the field. The ball hardly ever landed on the defensive side, as Williams kept torpedoing the offense from midfield.“Yep,” Donahue said when asked if he anticipated the immediate jolt from Williams. A smile creaked across his face. “I don’t know how else to answer that. I had a good feeling. I knew what I saw right away.”An 85-percent pace was unrealistic, but Williams hardly slowed down. He won at least 65 percent of faceoffs in six games last year, and shutout opponents at the X in 14 different quarters. Syracuse was handling the ball more than it had in years, and that played perfectly into the sticks of a dynamic offense run entirely by savvy veterans like Kevin Rice and Randy Staats.This season hasn’t gone much differently, as Williams’ faceoff clip is off just 0.8 percent from last year. He’s lost double-digit faceoffs only five times this season and averaged about 14 faceoff wins per ACC game.He’s given the Orange a rock to lean on for two years, fine-tuning his stance every week with Donahue so he can continue to incessantly feed the offense.The faceoff can propel a run or dig yourself out of a hole. It’s pretty important … You definitely think that way, but you kind of just have to focus on one at a time.Ben WilliamsWilliams is a master of that, despite the Carrier Dome scoreboard operators rejecting his request to hide the faceoff totals. Now he doesn’t look at the scoreboard anymore.But with each individual faceoff has come a trend that’s happened in bunches. A product of Syracuse developing a dependability on Williams to win early, and continue to winning. His fourth-quarter and overtime numbers have sunk this season, and in the Orange’s four losses this year, he’s won only 37 percent of faceoffs after the third quarter.Kiran Ramsey | Design Editor Facebook Twitter Google+ Gurenlian worked privately with Williams during the summer after his freshman year to get “the system” down pat. Morrissey, another former Syracuse All-American, phoned a strong recommendation for Williams into Desko. That pressed the veteran SU head coach to move quickly on the faceoff specialist, who drew interest elsewhere, namely an hour down the highway at Cornell.Desko had Williams, his parents and two brothers fly out to campus in June 2014 and sit in his office. He admits, as the head coach, he said things to Williams he wouldn’t normally say to a recruit: He had a hunch, and the opportunity for immediate impact was there.We needed him.SU head coach John DeskoAfter a campus tour from Donahue that served more as an extended recruiting pitch, the family departed home to Mendota Heights, Minnesota. It wasn’t long before Desko rang Williams’ line, and asked him to join the program.The program’s history was too good to pass up. The chance for immediate playing time was too good to pass up. And working with Donahue, who sold Williams’ father, David, from the onset, was far too good to pass up.“Desko said he believed in my ability as a player,” Williams recalled. “… Coming from a coach who probably talks to a lot of good players, that really meant a lot.“You never thought in a million years that John Desko would call me on the phone and say that.”LiftoffThe only thing Donahue wanted Williams to do was face the ball. The faceoff specialist previously taught himself to stand more upright at the X and face upfield, that way it was a straight shot to the goal if he won the draw. Williams had success in his self-taught ways, but the Syracuse assistant coach was adamant. Donahue needed Williams to let him install the system he wanted.From that point, only a matter of inches barricaded Williams between his formidable presence at Holy Cross and astronomical success. Williams always overcompensated when Donahue asked him to adjust a knee or hand. The assistant coach had to remind him it was just little tweaks, ones that still can make the difference in winning or losing a faceoff.Kiran Ramsey | Design Editor Making the “scientist”Two-hundred and ninety-five days after SU’s national championship implosion, when the team finished 9-for-30 at the X, Donahue was still looking for the right answer.Chris Daddio, SU’s turbulent faceoff man who went 0-for-4 against Fowler in the championship, was mired in an average season. He’d converted 48 percent of his chances through five games in 2014, and was headed into a matchup against St. John’s only 10-for-39 in his last two games — games that Syracuse lost by 13 goals combined.The timing was more than appropriate for Donahue to seek a faceoff remedy for the program. Through a bit of good fortune that SU was playing the Red Storm in Kennesaw, Georgia for the Cobb County Classic, former Orange All-American Liam Banks introduced Donahue to Major League Lacrosse faceoff man Greg Gurenlian.The two sat down for a substantial discussion that weekend in March, and Gurenlian pitched Donahue on The Faceoff Academy, Gurenlian’s coaching service. It wasn’t long before the Syracuse assistant coach was hanging on his every word.“Donahue deserves a ton of praise,” Gurenlian said. “At his level and with his experience, to buy completely into a new system with somebody that he hadn’t known for a long time, I give him a ton of credit.“He looks at the game differently. Not many (players) get a knowledgeable coach at the faceoff X.”It’s a coaching system that prioritizes faceoff stance, moves and countermoves among the eight pillars Gurenlian preaches. They started coaching Daddio that weekend in Georgia, and in turn, Donahue started absorbing the skills he needed to become a bona fide expert. “Oh definitely,” SU head coach John Desko said when asked about the national championship changing his perspective on faceoffs. “… We were feeling good about ourselves and all of the sudden the other team has the ball (15 of 16) times after goals.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“That was a big difference in that game.”May 27, 2013, was the springboard for Desko and his staff to leap into a largely untouched realm of the game with faceoff specialists. He enlisted assistant coach Kevin Donahue to master the modern intricacies of the position and ultimately reel in a program-changing player. Enter Ben Williams, a sophomore transfer from Holy Cross in 2015, who rose from a middling, 50-50 faceoff man to one of the sport’s elite under the guidance of Donahue.His first season was historically good last year. Williams finished with 256 wins at the X, the second-most in Orange history, and in turn notched the second-highest faceoff percentage in the country. The 6-foot junior has continued to trail blaze, boasting a top-five faceoff percentage this year and has No. 8 seed Syracuse (11-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) poised for a deep run into the NCAA tournament if he can win faceoffs at the copious rate he’s capable of.“I expect to help my team to the best of my abilities,” Williams said. “For me, that’s completely dominating. It’s hard to chase perfection, but we’re trying to chase the perfection.”Kiran Ramsey | Design Editor Published on May 13, 2016 at 9:38 pm Contact Connor: cgrossma@syr.edu | @connorgrossman Over and over again, Ben Williams studied the video of Brendan Fowler taking faceoffs. He’s seen it hundreds of times and examined it from every angle. He watched Fowler dominate at the X. How he positioned his body at the whistle. How he untangled himself from scrums around loose balls.How Fowler single-handedly ripped the 2013 national championship game out of Syracuse’s hands, won 15-of-16 draws at one point and turned a five-goal deficit into a 16-10 Duke win.Williams used Fowler to teach himself faceoff techniques in high school. Syracuse used Fowler to pioneer a new direction for its lacrosse program.last_img read more