As the primary faceoff specialist for top-ranked Maryland, Charlie Raffa has the green light from the coaching staff to take a shot if the opportunity presents itself. But it comes with a caveat.
“They tell me that if I have it, I can just go,” he said. “If not, just don’t do anything stupid.”
Raffa has been anything but that in 2013. The sophomore has won 64.3 percent (54 of 84) of his draws, including going 15 of 18 in the Terps’ 13-7 victory over Stony Brook Sunday.
Raffa’s prowess was especially prominent in the first half of that contest, helping the team win 10 of 11 faceoffs that contributed to the offense scoring the game’s first five goals.
“Charlie did such a good job at the X, and our wing guys did a really good job,” coach John Tillman said. “When you get that many possessions, you obviously give yourself a chance to get into a flow offensively, and you kind of get a sense of what they’re going to do. When Charlie’s doing things like that, it definitely makes things easier. But we didn’t expect to get off to that fast of a start.”
A backup to Curtis Holmes who won 55.3 percent (63 of 114) of his draws last spring, Raffa gained some invaluable experience as a member of the U.S. under-19 national team that captured a gold medal at the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 championships in the summer.
But Raffa traced a good deal of his success to his practice workouts with Holmes (who is a senior) and freshmen Andrew Walsh and Jonathan Garino Jr.
“I feel more confident,” Raffa said. “I’ve known the guys for a while longer. So I definitely feel like I have a connection with them. And it’s a big team effort. It’s not like it’s all on me. I know I have those guys to rely on and help me out.”
Raffa scored one goal and assisted on another Sunday and now has posted four goals and one assist. His 11 ground balls give him 33 for the year. But Raffa said he isn’t letting the numbers get to his head.
“I don’t want to look at this game like I’m so good or anything,” he said. “I want to keep moving, keep working hard, and hopefully, I’ll get to where be by the end of the year.”
The Terps entered the weekend leading Division I in scoring at a rate of 16.8 goals per game. Senior attackman Kevin Cooper credited some of the offense’s success to Raffa’s play.
“It’s a great luxury to have a faceoff guy,” Cooper said. “Charlie’s one of the best in the country. He just gets you so many extra possessions. We kind of take that for granted, but as an offense, you just want as many possessions as you can get, and he’s been great all year.”
*That eight-day layoff between the 16-7 rout of Duke on March 2 and Sunday’s contest seemed to have little effect on Maryland, which scored the game’s first five goals. Cooper admitted canceling Wednesday night’s home contest against UMBC because of a projected snowstorm was a little deflating. “We obviously wanted to get out there and play Wednesday against UMBC, and when that didn’t happen, everyone was just getting kind of antsy in practice,” he said. “We just practiced hard and tried to act like it was a game. With the layoff, it can be tough. Guys aren’t as focused as much every day, but we knew that we just wanted to come out here and play again.” Said senior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt: “We regrouped ourselves and got ready to play Stony Brook. Maybe there was a little concern that we might come out flat, but it was such a long layoff that guys were excited to come out and that kind of showed today.”
*There is no goalie controversy with the Terps, but Tillman liked what he saw from sophomore Kyle Bernlohr, who replaced redshirt junior Niko Amato with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bernlohr allowed two goals while making two saves, but Tillman praised Bernlohr’s effort. “He got a couple that were right on top of him,” Tillman said. “Kyle’s another guy that, he works very hard in practice, and he’s gotten better and better. So we feel like we’ve got a really good guy in Niko, but we’re certainly confident that if Kyle goes in a game, he’s going to do a really good job of leading the D, making the saves, and then clearing the ball.”
*With 24 ground balls and a team-best nine caused turnovers, Bernhardt’s candidacy for the Tewaaraton Award has been gaining steam. Bernhardt tried to shrug off the attention. “It’s a humbling thing,” he said. “I try not to get caught up in what Coach Tillman calls the press clippings and all that stuff. But it’s a humbling thing, and I’m just trying to go out and do what I can for the team whenever I get a chance.” No defensive player has ever won the award. Is it time for a first? “Yeah, it’d be great,” said Bernhardt, who has also registered one goal and one assist in 2013. “It’s kind of like the Heisman Trophy. It’s always good to see a defensive guy get in there and get some love.”