BALTIMORE — Maryland men’s lacrosse senior Michael Ehrhardt played longstick midfield this year for the first time in his career, either college or high school.
Earlier this week he was named a first-team all-American.
The coaches moved Ehrhardt from close defense even though he missed the fall season while recovering from offseason surgery. They did so in part because of his frame; he is 6 feet 5, 210 pounds.
But Ehrhardt also had a background as a standout wide receiver at Chaminade High on Long Island. His siblings have all played college sports and his father, Tom, played briefly in the NFL, having set 226 national, conference and school records as a quarterback at the University of Rhode Island in the mid-1980s.
“Michael had been a pretty good wide receiver in high school, so we knew he could play in space,” Terrapins Coach John Tillman said. “And he’s such a hard worker and will do anything for the team. So that’s why we moved him.”
Ehrhardt’s rise to prominence underscores a point about the current state of men’s collegiate lacrosse: Not every team is blessed with a player who has the athletic ability and size of Ehrhardt. And such a player can make an immediate impact on the game.
Top-seeded Duke (15-3) has two such players in prominent roles. Senior Brendan Fowler was recruited to Duke as a football player and played on special teams. At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Fowler is built solidly enough that he’s taken 459 faceoffs this year, having taken 526 last year.
Following a 19-11 victory over Johns Hopkins in a quarterfinal last Sunday, Duke Coach John Danowski was asked if he worried about Fowler becoming tired, having taken 33 faceoffs that day. As Danowski started to answer the question, a player sitting to his right immediately began shaking is head, “no.”
In football “Brendan runs downfield and covers kickoffs and blocks guys from Florida State and Miami,” Danowski said. “We’re not really concerned about Brendan. He always figures it out.”
Duke has other talent — senior Jordan Wolf (59 goals, 33 assists) is the only finalist for the men’s Tewaaraton Trophy to reach the men’s Final Four, and sophomore Deemer Class (33 goals, 27 assists) was named a first-team all-American this week.
But the second eye-popping athlete is sophomore Myles Jones, a 6-4, 240-pound midfielder who was recruited by Division I basketball programs while at Walt Whitman (N.Y.) High on Long Island.
Jones enters Saturday’s semifinal against No. 5 Denver (16-2) with 33 goals and 24 assists.
During its walkthrough practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday, the Pioneers had scout team players wearing the jersey numbers of five of Duke’s starters. Missing was Jones’s No. 15.
“We have one of those guys [with Jones’s size] and he’s a defenseman,” Denver Coach Bill Tierney said. “If I ever put him in an offense spot we’d all be in trouble. . . . You don’t duplicate [Jones]. You have to get a feel for him once you’re out there.
“We’ve played him the last two years but clearly he’s a whole new player this year. He’s also got a first-team all-American next to him. They’re just a great team.”
Denver is in the semifinals for the third time in four years. Despite the unlikely geography, the Pioneers have become a power in the sport under Tierney, a Hall of Fame coach who won six national titles at Princeton.
The Pioneers run an offense based on constant motion and ball movement. Compared to Duke, Denver is downright Lilliputian: No starter is taller than 6-feet-1 or weighs more than 180 pounds.
But the offense, under the tutelage of assistant Matt Brown, is effective. In a sport where teams shoot around 27 percent on average, Denver enters Saturday shooting 37 percent.
“Our offense is all about ball movement, people movement and unselfishness,” Tierney said. “We don’t care who scores as long as we score. We’re looking for the best shot, not the first shot. . . . Really our only true attackman is Jack Bobzien. It’s what we do. Spread the ball around. In Brownie’s offense everyone is moving around anyway so it really doesn’t matter if you’re an attackman or midfield.”