Charlie Raffa is one of the key components to the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s success. Not that one could tell by watching practice. Raffa, a junior, is ranked second in the nation in faceoff winning percentage (67.6 percent). Yet he is battling a variety of injuries, including a knee injury from the summer that causes him to wear a bulky brace.
So the Maryland coaches regularly hold him out of practice, especially on Mondays. On those days, while his teammates work on conditioning, Raffa wears shorts and a T-shirt with a whistle around his neck. Among his tasks is to gather lacrosse balls for the coaches.
“His teammates will look at him and say, ‘Hey, Charlie, tough day at the office?’” said his father, Charles Raffa. “During games I see him limping out on the field and I get a little concerned. Then the whistle blows and you never know he’s hurt. Then the whistle blows again to end the play and he’s limping again. It’s the craziest thing.”
Yet the arrangement has helped Raffa and the seventh-seeded Terrapins (12-3) entering an NCAA quarterfinal against unseeded Bryant (16-4) on Saturday at noon in Hempstead, N.Y.
The Bulldogs advanced with a 10-9 victory over No. 2 seed Syracuse last Sunday.
On Saturday, the game within the game features Raffa and Bryant junior Kevin Massa. Massa leads the nation in faceoff winning percentage (70.6 percent).
That matchup will go a long way toward determining if the Terrapins will reach championship weekend for the third time in four years under Coach John Tillman.
Massa “has a little different technique and different stance,” Tillman said. “That’s one of the neat things about faceoffs. You go with what works for you. There’s no standard technique.”
Raffa’s technique is based on his being a good athlete. He was the starting quarterback in a triple-option offense at St. Anthony’s High on Long Island and is one of the fastest players on the Maryland team.
To prove that there is not one basic mold of faceoff specialist, consider the backgrounds of the other players ranked in the top five nationally in winning percentage: One was a wrestler in high school; one was a standout running back and hockey player; one ran cross-country; and one played only lacrosse.
“Everyone has different styles,” Raffa said. “I don’t try to anticipate the whistle. I hold my breath and wait to see what [his opponent’s] move is and try to counter it.”
The faceoff wings will play a big role on Saturday too, especially Maryland senior Michael Ehrhardt.
Ehrhardt also is the starting long-stick midfielder. Yet in an 8-7 victory over Cornell in an NCAA first-round game last Saturday, Ehrhardt eschewed his usual role on the defense to focus on his work as a faceoff wing.
“I’d rather not miss a shift at all. But if I had to choose, I would rather miss going out to play defense,” Ehrhardt said. “The middle of the field is important, and it’s important for our offense to have the ball. And when the offense has the ball I get to rest anyway.”
Like Raffa, Ehrhardt is a top athlete. He was a standout wide receiver at Chaminade High on Long Island and had the rarity of regularly catching backyard passes from a former NFL quarterback; his father, Tom, is the all-time leading passer at Rhode Island and briefly played for the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals
In middle school, Michael Ehrhardt was a quarterback and, in lacrosse, played offensive midfield. Soon after arriving at Chaminade, however, he moved to wide receiver and long-stick midfield.
“I was a little disappointed when he got to Chaminade and he didn’t get a chance to play quarterback,” Tom Ehrhardt said. “But that was their call, and he’s made the most of it. They told him they had a kid they liked at quarterback, and could he play wide receiver?
“Same thing when they gave him a long stick and asked him to play defense. He never complained. He just does what is asked of him to help the team.”