Face-off Specialist Propels Churchill Boys Lacrosse’s Prolific Offense

Face-off Specialist Propels Churchill Boys Lacrosse’s Prolific Offense

Bulldogs won fourth regional title in five years Wednesday against Urbana

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Winston Churchill faceoff specialist Austin LaBorwit

David Altobello

The defending state finalist Winston Churchill High School boys lacrosse team won its fourth Class 4A/3A West Region title in five years with Wednesday’s 14-5 victory over visiting Frederick County powerhouse Urbana. The performance was a microcosm of the Bulldogs’ season: an offense too versatile and explosive to stop, backed by a nearly impenetrable defensive unit.

Churchill (16-1), whose only loss this season was a competitive 13-8 defeat to a Landon team ranked 10th nationally in the latest Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse High School Top 25, has outscored its opponents, 248 to 85 (14.6 to 5 per-game average). And while it’s easy to get wrapped up in scoring numbers—Churchill has five players with 53 points or more—the Bulldogs know everything begins with senior face-off man Austin LaBorwit, coach Jeff Fritz said.

The Trinity College recruit, who earlier this season broke Churchill’s all-time career face-off wins record (previously 466) as just a second-year starter, prevailed in 13 of 19 face-offs Wednesday. He’s won 198 of 265 this spring for a 74.7 percent success rate.

“He’s won a lot of face-offs and that helps us keep possession of the ball,” Fritz said. “If you don’t have possession of the ball, you can’t score. That’s been our motto.”

The face-off, through which play is begun at the start of every game, after halftime and following every goal scored, is undeniably one of the most important aspects of any lacrosse competition. Each time LaBorwit faces off against an opponent—the two crouch down, facing each other with the lacrosse ball placed between their two sticks—he is fighting for his team’s possession and momentum.

LaBorwit said it was that individualistic quality in the team-oriented sport that drew him to the position. It was a skill he could develop on his own, outside of team practices and without a partner. LaBorwit’s speed, strength, quick hands and reaction time are all helpful when it comes to winning the ball for his team. But Fritz said LaBorwit’s mind could be an even greater tool.

“He’s got great mental toughness,” Fritz said. “You have to have a short memory. The most important play is always the next one.”

Fritz also commended LaBorwit’s ability to read and adapt to the game and his opponents. Face-offs are often likened to a game of rock, paper, scissors and LaBorwit always knows how to make the proper adjustments, Fritz said. LaBorwit’s effectiveness also gives Churchill’s offense more flexibility because his teammates are confident in his ability to bring the ball back.

Though the Bulldogs were certainly pleased with Wednesday’s fifth regional championship, Churchill will not settle for anything less than winning Montgomery County’s first state title Memorial Day weekend, LaBorwit said.

And Churchill has the means to achieve that goal. Aside from its ability to score goals seemingly at will is the unique dynamic among its midfielders and attackmen. This year’s squad, more so than any Fritz said he’s coached, has bought into the idea of playing for each other.

Any one of the Bulldogs’ leading scorers—Chris Higgins (63 goals, 13 assists), Reed Moshyedi (40, 29), Brady Altobello (38, 17), Spencer Knife (21, 33) and Ryan Leonard (29, 24)—could easily rack up bigger numbers. But, admirably, they’re more invested in doing what’s right for the team than peppering the stat sheet, Fritz said. And that selflessness is what it takes to win a state championship.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to face five-time state champion Severna Park (Anne Arundel County) in the state semifinals Saturday at 3 p.m. at Gaithersburg.

“We really want to win that state title this year and we have the team to do so,” LaBorwit said. “Our practices are full of energy. We’re balanced everywhere. It’s states or bust.” 

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