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No. 7 Maryland men’s lacrosse’s Hawg Pen has found its stride at the faceoff circle

The Terps have taken a team-first mentality into the faceoff X.

Tyler DeSue / Testudo Times

Entering Saturday’s contest against Notre Dame, junior Justin Shockey hadn’t taken an in-game faceoff in two weeks. Conversely, Notre Dame’s faceoff specialist Charles Leonard was only six days removed from his last game action.

Despite the game rust, it was Shockey who dominated the faceoff battle all afternoon for the No. 7 Maryland men’s lacrosse team, going 18-of-26 at the faceoff X. Shockey allowed his team to possess the ball, propelling the Terps to a 14-9 victory.

“I give Justin credit. He’s been a pro. I think all those faceoff guys have,” head coach John Tillman said. “To me, that’s just being ready and being professional.”

Shockey saw no time against Villanova as freshman Conor Calderone saw every faceoff. Maryland’s group of faceoff specialists, known as the “Hawg Pen,” consists of Shockey, Calderone, and junior Joel Trucksess. All have seen time in the faceoff circle this season with Calderone and Shockey starting the past two games.

In the first three games of the season, Tillman rotated his specialists in each game. All three were in action against Richmond, with Calderone and Shockey splitting time against High Point and Penn.

But against Villanova, Tillman tweaked his strategy and let Calderone take every single faceoff. The freshman found his groove and played his best game of the season, winning 17-of-29 faceoffs.

“Conor got the nod against Villanova, he did an excellent job,” Shockey said. “It’s all about having that rhythm and that momentum during the week — having that Hawg Pen mentality. Whoever gets the start is going to do well.”

The “Hawg Pen mentality” has been exhibited on the field as of late for the Terps. After a two-game stretch where it lost the faceoff battle, Maryland is +15 in the faceoff department the past two games against Villanova and Notre Dame.

The results show on Saturday, but it’s the preparation that helps the specialists achieve that level of success. During the week, volunteer assistant coach Tyler Barbarich leads the group through various drills to improve scooping ground balls and hand speed. They also spend time battling against each other.

“Coach Barbarich does a great job, he really sets us up for success,” Shockey said. “We do a ton of ground ball work. That’s kinda been our staple this year...that stuff really helps us come game day.”

As a sophomore, Shockey had an up-and-down season. He was the No. 2 faceoff specialist to Austin Henningsen. He saw action in 15 games, but only won 50.3 percent of his faceoffs. Shockey is much improved this season, winning 57.3 percent, and he has been a huge part of the Terp’s success.

While the Potomac, Maryland, native has been impressive on the field, off the field he’s also stepped up as a leader. The more seasoned Shockey has taken Calderone under his wing and helped him transition to playing at the college level. Their relationship dates back to before Calderone even stepped foot on campus, with Shockey reaching out in the summer to see if he could help in any way.

“He couldn’t be any better as a leader,” Calderone said. “Those guys (Shockey and Trucksess) are always helping me out, and instilling confidence in me.”

Despite being a freshman, Calderone is also providing support and insight to his teammates. On the sidelines, Calderone can be seen cheering his fellow Hawg Pen members on while also providing his knowledge on to Shockey.

“Every time I came off, I was with Conor and we were discussing stuff that I could work on, stuff that went well, where we could shift the wings,” Shockey said. “Coach Barbarich is right there too. We’re all kinda interacting throughout the game to make sure that we keep winning.”

Continuing to win faceoffs will be a point of emphasis for the Terps as they begin to enter conference play. The ability to win possession of the ball helps alleviate pressure off the defense, while giving their explosive offense the chance to score.

Opposing teams may not know who is going to take the faceoffs for Tillman’s group on a game by game basis. But whoever is hovering over that center circle for Maryland carries the Hawg Pen mentality with them.