Before Urbana boys lacrosse coach Gavin Donahue praised his players for achieving important team goals they set at the beginning of the season, Hawks attackman Jason Jozwiak felt the need to recognize one of his teammates.
“Game ball goes to Langley!” Jozwiak belted out in a postgame huddle Saturday at Hood College after Urbana defeated Middletown 21-6 to win its first Central Maryland Conference title.
On paper, Langley Smaha’s contribution — he won 41 percent of the faceoffs in the victory — may not seem all that impressive. But the fact that he did so while opposing one of the area’s best faceoff men, the Knights’ Roland Hockenbery, speaks volumes. And his best stretch of play allowed the Hawks (15-0) to put the game out of reach, prompting Donahue to call him “the star of the game.”
“Roland’s a really good faceoff kid — he’s going to Delaware,” said Jozwiak, a sophomore who amassed six goals and three assists. “Langley played neck-and-neck with him the whole game.”
In the regular season meeting between the teams, the Hawks were never challenged as they ran away with a 14-3 victory. On Saturday, the Knights (7-5) stayed in contention, trailing by four goals at halftime. Then Smaha dug in, winning the first four faceoffs of the third quarter.
“When you have the ball on your stick for that long, having a lot of long possessions in a row, it really helps you get into the rhythm that you want,” Jozwiak said. “You start putting up a lot more goals.”
In Urbana’s case, it was a lot more. The Hawks turned Smaha’s four consecutive faceoff wins into four goals, and they rattled off eight straight goals total to start the second half. As usual, the scoring came from several different sources.
Jason Kolar tallied five goals and three assists, and Jack Jozwiak followed with three goals and five assists. Brendan Schmitz scored four times, Eric Kolar had two goals, and Tyler Umberger scored once.
In the early spring, Smaha was one of several different Hawks who received opportunities at the faceoff X. At around the midway point of the season, Smaha began to emerge as Donahue’s top choice. The junior offered a simple explanation to his improvement: growing confidence.
“Facing off, it’s a really big mind game,” Smaha said. “If you don’t have confidence, you start to jump, you start to get antsy, you start to think about it too much.
“That’s not what you want. So confidence is a really big deal.”
Urbana’s defense, Donahue said, also benefits from a higher percentage of faceoff wins.
Goalie Kevin Medina, who made eight saves, and a strong group of defensemen that includes Joey Masson, Steven Drabick, Brad Leonard and Ethan Edwards head a unit that forces its fair share of turnovers — a big reason why it has allowed just four goals per game this season.
After a caused turnover led to Urbana’s first goal in Saturday’s game, Donahue shouted, “Good possession — that started with the defense.” But for Donahue, even a defense as strong as the Hawks’ needs opportunities to catch its breath on the field.
“In the first half, especially the first quarter, we were playing a lot of defense,” said Donahue, who pointed out that the Hawks gave up just two goals in the second half. “If you play that much defense throughout the course of the game, you’re going to get fatigued, and you’re going to have defensive breakdowns.
“I think it’s important [Smaha] won that many faceoffs. He gave our defense a break.”
During the team’s postgame huddle, Donahue noted that the Hawks met team goals of going undefeated and winning their first CMC title. But he followed that up by saying, “We still have a lot of work to do.”
They can get a lot of work done in the upcoming Class 4A region playoffs, Donahue figures, if Smaha builds upon his success. In conversations with his assistants, Donahue has said he likes his team’s chances to beat any opponent if the Hawks win approximately 40 percent of the faceoffs. That, in turn, helps put immense pressure on opponents trying to slow down an Urbana offense with multiple weapons.
“They share the ball so nicely,” Donahue said of his offense. “It’s hard to play man-to-man defense against us — it really is just because we flip the field so many times, and we really make [opponents] work.”
For the Knights, Luke Hallman scored four goals while Henry Kreger and Conor March each had one.
“They’re a really good team,” Middletown coach Ty Crompton said of Urbana. “We need to play together and keep fighting. We have the [Class 2A] playoffs next week and play other teams that aren’t 4A.”