Men's Lacrosse

No. 11 Towson’s faceoff specialist Alex Woodall to play crucial role against No. 2 Syracuse in NCAA quarterfinals

Courtesy of Rob Maloof

Woodall in action against Penn State during the NCAA first round.

Since Alex Woodall was in seventh grade, his job on the lacrosse field has been to win the faceoff and run off the field.

“I kind of just got jealous,” Woodall said of the time. “I wanted to take (the faceoffs) all myself, so I went to my coach, and just dedicated my time to that … The thrill of starting off a game after each quarter or after a goal, all eyes on you… Really just helping out your team in a different way other than scoring goals.”

He concentrated on making the most of those moments at the faceoff X — and taking all of them.

“Alex,” his mother, Aracelly Woodall, quipped, “why am I paying all this money for you to be just one second in the field?”

The faceoff specialist in his first year at No. 11 Towson (11-4, 4-1 Colonial Athletic) looks to continue his season-long domination of the faceoff X against No. 2 Syracuse (13-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) on Sunday in the NCAA quarterfinals at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Delaware.

Woodall enters the game ranked ninth in the country in faceoff win percentage, at 60.9 percent and faces a formidable counterpart in Syracuse’s faceoff specialist, Ben Williams, historically one of the best in the nation. This season, Williams ranks 28th in the country for winning percentage on faceoffs at 54.1.

Their two paths to the Round of 16 exhibit their opposite fortunes this season. Woodall won 7-of-13 faceoffs in Towson’s 12-8 victory over Penn State. Williams, whose season has been marred by inconsistency, only went 1-of-12 in Syracuse’s nail-biting win over Yale, 11-10.

Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen acknowledged Williams’ recent decline in productivity and suspected that his most recent performance was an aberration.

To simulate what Woodall might see Sunday, Towson spent time throughout the week pitting Woodall against his backups. Connor Harryman, one of them, simulated Williams’ tendencies at the faceoff X seen during Wednesday’s film session. While Harryman knew he’s not the perfect replication of the Orange’s top guy, he said that Woodall has one “God-given” ability on his side.

“He has a natural hand speed which not a lot of people can compete against,” Harryman said. “But he practices just like any other faceoff guy … He’s just always had the natural ability that not many people are given.”

During last week’s matchup with Penn State, Woodall injured his leg and watched from the sideline as Harryman took the reps in the second half. SU head coach John Desko even noted the injury during the press conference after SU’s Yale game, but Nadelen said that Woodall “had a smile on his face” on Monday, and that there were no real worries.

If not for a desire to play closer to home, Woodall wouldn’t have ended up at Towson. Out of St. Mary’s (Maryland) High School, Woodall enrolled at High Point and played one season there as the team’s top faceoff man. But at Towson, a program that had been interested in the faceoff specialist since high school, Woodall had opportunity. Both to be closer to his hometown of Annapolis, Maryland and to help a lacrosse team not even a decade old.

“I felt that at Towson, there was a little bit more to play for,” Woodall said. “Which I thought would make my career better, just give me more motivation.

“Playing for a school in Baltimore, where I grew up, would mean more to me.”

Woodall was not in uniform for Towson’s NCAA quarterfinal loss to Loyola last year. In that game, the Tigers tried three different players at the faceoff X, finishing a combined 7-of-22.

Now, to defeat the Orange and prevent his team from losing in two straight quarterfinals, Woodall’s success is vital. Woodall can’t anticipate how many faceoffs he’ll take in the fourth quarter against Syracuse on Sunday, but he knows there will be at least one to open the last frame. Seven years after embracing his identity as a faceoff specialist, Woodall will try and win just one more.

“I can’t lie, it does get in my head (if I’m struggling),” Woodall said. “If we’re being honest, it does definitely make us all mad, waiting on the sideline ready to get ours first.”

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