BALTIMORE — Before Gavin Tygh came along, the William Penn Charter School boys lacrosse team never really had a faceoff specialist.
Head coach Pat McDonough said he used to just send a longstick midfielder out to the X to “beat people up.”
“He was a welcome change,” McDonough said. “I didn’t know what I was missing until we had him.”
Tygh ended his high school career with 1,297 faceoff wins, which broke current Yale faceoff specialist TD Ierlan’s record for the most in high school lacrosse history, according to laxrecords.com.
A Virginia commit since the summer before his freshman year at Penn Charter, Tygh is one of five incoming freshmen on the Cavaliers' men’s lacrosse team who will take the field as high school athletes one last time Saturday in the Under Armour All-American games at Johns Hopkins University.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play in the ACC,” said Tygh, whose choice of college programs came down to UVa, Notre Dame and North Carolina. “I wanted to go to UVa because of the history it has and how well people who graduate from there do in business or pretty much any other field. I wanted to find a place that would give me the opportunity to be busy for the rest of my life.”
Tygh does a good job of keeping his gaudy statistics in perspective.
“In the end, it’s just numbers, but it definitely shows my hard work and dedication,” he said. “I’ve been watching Ierlan a lot. He was an inspiration for me and a motivator for me. Hopefully, next year we get to play him again.”
Tygh was in the stands at Lincoln Financial Field in May when Virginia shut down Yale’s potent offense in the national championship game. He got a good look at the man he’d been chasing his entire high school career, and the men he’ll begin pursuing this fall, UVa faceoff specialists Petey LaSalla and Justin Schwenk.
“It was really cool to see some of the best guys in the country going at each other,” Tygh said. “[LaSalla and Schwenk] both do a lot well, so it will be cool to learn from them. I’m really excited to be part of that rotation.”
Etched in Tygh’s memory of the Cavaliers’ 13-9 national title win are scenes of LaSalla winning possession and twice going straight to goal. He said in the coming years, college lacrosse fans are going to see a lot more of that.
“I think the faceoff position is changing a lot because it’s requiring more athletic people to be in the middle,” he said. “With the new rules and shot clock, it’s better to just put points on the board. Possessions are still valuable, but it’s a lot more important, because of the time restraint, to put points on the board.”
After the national title game, Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany couldn’t get the vision of LaSalla’s goals out of his head, either. He seemed pretty on-board with the idea of a faceoff man who can do more than just tussle for the ball.
“We’re going to expand [LaSalla’s] role over the next three years, and we’re going to keep him on the field longer, especially if he has the opposing offensive face-off man trapped down there,” Tiffany said. “We know he can score that goal; we just didn’t know he would be able to earn as many possessions as he did. There weren’t too many, but to do it against TD Ierlan was a big deal for us.”
Tygh has a knack for finding the back of the net. As a senior at Penn Charter, he put up 37 goals, six assists and 221 ground balls.
“His athleticism and just his tenacity make him special,” McDonough said. “If he doesn’t win the faceoff, he’s still in the play. A lot of faceoff guys are good at the clamp and all, but Gavin is good after that. I don’t know many players who are as good after that.”
An asterisk probably should have accompanied the faceoff specialist next to Tygh’s name on the Quakers’ roster.
“We left him on the field offensively because he’s one of our best athletes. When you talk about being able to beat a man, he’s a guy who is actually able to dodge. He’s not one of these guys who needs to throw the ball and get off the field right away. We got to the point where we were leaving him on the field in man-up situations.”
As much as Tiffany would love to have a faceoff man with double-digit goals, Tygh’s focus will narrow when he steps on Grounds. He’ll spend less time catching and shooting and more helmet to helmet with a couple of ACC veterans. That was the topic of one of McDonough’s many conversations with Tiffany.
“I told him we don’t practice faceoffs at all. We don’t have anybody that can go against him, and Gavin plays offense and defense for us, so he has to learn those areas,” McDonough said. “When he gets down there in an environment where every day he’s going to be able to compete against other great players, he’s going to do what he does. As good as he already is, I think he’s going to get better.”
Tygh comes in battle tested. Playing in Pennsylvania’s Inter-AC League as a freshman, he went head to head against Episcopal Academy’s Christian Feliziani, who took faceoffs for Team USA’s U19 team and is now a junior at Ohio State. In Penn Charter’s first win over Haverford Academy in 15 years, Tygh gave current Lehigh faceoff specialist Joel Trucksess fits.
Tygh began taking faceoffs in the seventh grade. By the time he hit the eighth, he was taking the X for the varsity team.
“I was super tiny going against seniors anywhere from 6-5 to 6-foot. It did give me confidence to be out there competing, and it was great experience,” Tygh said. “The advantage the top guys in the country have is they know how to adjust. It’s like boxing or wrestling. It’s 1-v-1. If your move isn’t working, you have to adjust.”
The Cavaliers have what seem like a pair of entrenched specialists. Schwenk is now just two seasons removed from setting Virginia’s single-season record for faceoff wins, and LaSalla earned some clutch wins on the biggest stage to help put the finishing touches on UVa’s national title run. But Tygh plans to come in and muddy the waters.
“Practice is going to be a dogfight each week,” he said. “It’s what the coaches expect and it’s what I expect from myself. If you’re not going 110 percent every day in practice, you’re letting yourself and your teammates down.”