A week into the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s season, a frustrated Justin Shockey approached assistant coach Tyler Barbarich. The freshman faceoff specialist didn’t expect to start in College Park right away, but thought he’d have a more successful beginning to his college career than an 0-for-3 outing in Maryland’s opening win against Navy.
Shockey won more than 79 percent of his faceoffs as a senior at Landon, emerging as an up-and-coming star who Landon assistant coach J.R. Bordley anticipated would soon be a household name in the lacrosse world.
By the end of February, the freshman was taking the majority of Maryland’s faceoffs, and it seemed Bordley was correct. But then, Shockey’s production fell off. He went 3-for-12 against Michigan on March 31 and continued to struggle before Sunday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal matchup with Cornell. Shockey never lost his starting role, but faceoff specialist Austin Henningsen was often more productive off the bench.
Shockey thrived against the Big Red, however, winning 13 of 19 faceoffs to help coach John Tillman’s team secure a spot in the final four. He’ll look to replicate that outing Saturday against Duke in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“I’m proud of him for what he’s done so far,” Tillman said. “He’d like to be a little more consistent. He came up big for us last week and has had some big moments. We have a lot of confidence in him moving forward.”
‘Everyone wants to score goals’
Shockey didn’t become a faceoff specialist until his sophomore year at Landon, usually playing as a left-handed attackman before then.
By the end of his 10th-grade year, Shockey’s knack for the faceoff X had become evident, when he won a double-overtime draw to help secure a game-winning goal in a game Bordley said the team should have lost.
Shockey also provided Landon with a score in the IEC championship game against Georgetown Prep, earning the starting job by the end of his first year at the position.
“Everyone wants to score goals,” Bordley said. “[Faceoffs are] the single most important position on the field. It takes someone with the right mindset.”
Shockey, boasting the No. 19 jersey passed down among Landon faceoff men, was effective despite battling injuries in his junior season. Then, he was dominant as a senior, leading his squad to a 21-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
“He covered up a lot of weaknesses,” Bordley said. “We played more offense than defense because of Shockey.”
Before he ever took a faceoff for Landon, Shockey worked with Chris Mattes, who hosted a faceoff academy and offered training events for local players. Rather than become discouraged when losing to older and more experienced players, Shockey relished the learning opportunity.
Given how late he was picking up the position, the attitude was necessary for Shockey to turn into a productive player. But even in his senior season, when he was beating out players older than him, he still approached Mattes for constant feedback.
“He has this mentality to him, he’s a perfectionist,” Mattes said. “He pays attention to little details. He loves taking practice reps. It plays into why he’s so successful.”
The pair worked on ground ball technique and adjusting to the speed of college lacrosse, but Mattes, then an assistant with the Terps, told Shockey he may not start immediately at a major program.
Shockey initially wanted to play at Navy but had second thoughts. Mattes helped secure Shockey a spot in College Park, and he arrived on campus in the spring.
Mattes now works for the New England Patriots, but still discusses strategy weekly with Shockey.
“He wasn’t always the best,” Mattes said. “[But] he put his time and effort in. It’s fun to see that now pay off.”
‘A tough patch’
Shockey received his first start against Penn on Feb. 21, after Henningsen was inconsistent through three games. Shockey went 11-for-17 against the Quakers and was dominant for about the next two months, with the exception of a loss to Albany on March 10.
Maryland didn’t win a fourth-quarter faceoff against the Great Danes — who are also in the final four — and took its first loss of the season. However, Barbarich said Shockey won four of six faceoffs, but the Terps couldn’t scoop up the ensuing ground balls.
But after a dominant 16-for-20 performance against North Carolina, Shockey’s production disappeared. Beginning with the 3-for-12 against Michigan, Shockey went 21-for-58 over his next five games. Increasingly, the Terps turned to Henningsen.
Learning to accept he wouldn’t dominate every game like he did in the past was crucial for Shockey, the team said.
“I went through a tough patch midseason,” Shockey said. “I got frustrated with the decisions I was making after I got the clamp. Every faceoff is a new faceoff, that’s the mentality.”
Two weeks ago, the faceoff unit held a meeting where they discussed their roles and the best way to approach collectively improving. It had a far different tone from Shockey’s earlier meeting with Barbarich. In the months since, he’s embraced his role on a team pursuing its second title in as many seasons.
“Justin has done so much for us this year,” Tillman said. “He didn’t have the ability to have a fall like most freshmen do. A lot of growth happens in the fall. He had to do a lot very quickly. I’m proud of him for what he’s done so far.”