URBANA — Blessed with a juggernaut offense but lacking a true faceoff guy, the Urbana boys lacrosse team turned to two of the youngest players on the team to fill the role.
“These are young guys. They have three or four years to go. By the time they are seniors, they are going to be pretty tough to beat,” Hawks coach Gavin Donahue said of sophomore Hunter Bryant and freshman Elijah Jean-Jaques.
Feeling some heat to come through in Monday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal, Bryant and Jean-Jaques delivered for Urbana, winning nearly half of the total faceoffs in a 16-4 victory over seventh-seeded J.M. Bennett.
“If they can continue to do that and give us the ball, I like our chances,” Donahue said.
The second-seeded Hawks (10-0) will host sixth-seeded Marriotts Ridge in a 3A semifinal at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. Marriotts Ridge nipped third-seeded Huntingtown 7-6 in another quarterfinal Monday.
“We have a history with Marriotts Ridge,” said senior midfielder Jason Kolar, who shook off a mild calf strain from Friday’s victory over Tuscarora and scored the first goal of Monday’s game less than a minute in off a feed from his brother, Eric.
“I mean, we have scrimmaged them my whole high school career,” Kolar said of the Mustangs. “They are always a fun team to play, and we are excited to see them. We’ll be ready.”
Bryant won the first two faceoffs of Monday’s game, which Urbana quickly turned into goals on its way to its first state semifinal appearance since 2014.
During a spring-league game, the Urbana coaches noticed Bryant winning a bunch of faceoffs and approached him about doing it for the high-school team.
Bryant is normally an offensive and defensive midfielder in club and recreational lacrosse. He had faced off sparingly up until that point. But he told Donahue and his staff that he was willing to contribute in any way that he could.
“I just want to help the team win,” Bryant said.
Meanwhile, Jean-Jaques had faced off for his club and rec teams. He had tremendous athleticism for a freshman. But his ability to perform the task was still pretty raw.
“You have got to be hungry for the ball,” Jean-Jaques said. “If you go out there and don’t really want it, then you are not going to win very much.”
Both Bryant and Jean-Jaques won more than 50 percent of the faceoffs they took during the regular season.
They have progressed steadily under the tutelage of assistant coach Jon Paige, who played for Donahue when he was coaching at Oakdale High School.
Paige, a former assistant coach at Mount St. Mary’s, is the offensive coordinator for the men’s lacrosse team at Lewis University in Chicago.
After graduating from Oakdale, he went on to play at Queens University in Charlotte, where he has the best faceoff winning percentage in program history. He went on to faceoff professionally in Major League Lacrosse for the Florida Launch and the Chesapeake Bayhawks in 2018 and the Ohio Machine in 2019.
“Coach Paige has helped me out a lot since the start of the season,” Jean-Jaques said. “I am very grateful for the chance to work with him.”
Being able to bring someone of Paige’s caliber onto his coaching staff was a luxury for Donahue.
“Faceoff is a specialty position, kind of like a goalie,” Donahue said. “You can’t really teach it unless you play it, with all of the intricacies and stuff like that. He has taught [Bryant and Jean-Jaques] technique and taught them counter moves. He is helping them to be successful.”
Once Urbana got possession of the ball Monday, the Hawks were firing on all cylinders in the first game they had played against a non-Frederick County opponent all season.
Senior Jack Jozwiak had five goals and one assist. His brother, Jason Jozwiak, had four goals and one assist. Jason Kolar scored three goals, while Eric Kolar finished with four assists.
The Hawks even showed off on defense. Near the end of the first half, they switched into a zone, which Donahue said they rarely use. They just wanted to see how it would look.
During that time, Eric Kolar blocked the lone shot attempt J.M. Bennett was able to muster against Urbana’s zone before time ran out in the first half.
Meanwhile, senior goalie Cullen McKay faced nine shots overall and made five saves.
“I am happy with the way we played,” Donahue said. “I think we put it together offensively, defensively, ride, clear, man-up, man-down. I don’t think we had one weakness tonight.”