Denver Momentum Fueled by Kentucky Kid
by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com
Louisville product Chase Carraro, a sophomore, exploded for 18 goals and a .610 faceoff percentage this season for Denver, which on Sunday will host the first NCAA Division I tournament game west of the Mississippi River.
© Greg Shemitz
From the lacrosse wilderness of Kentucky to the frontier of Denver, Chase Carraro is blazing a trail with a whole lot of pride.
The Denver sophomore midfielder and faceoff man has helped the Pioneers to an ECAC championship and the program's first NCAA tournament home game. Don't dare call him a specialist – while Carraro has an impressive .610 faceoff percentage, he's also a big part of the team's transition offense, with 18 goals and two assists through 15 games this year.
"Faceoffs, 100 percent, are just about pride and fighting for your team," Carraro said. "When it comes down to it, a faceoff is a one-on-one battle that eventually turns into a three-on-three battle, but it's you verses another guy."
Carraro causes headaches for opposing defenses when he wins the draw and drives down the field in transition with fellow midfielders Cam Flint and Jeremy Noble.
"We get a lot of transition goals from catching other specialty guys on the field from other teams," Carraro said. "This year, I know how to get to the cage better and I know how to get off my shots better because I know how to approach a dodge or where to cut."
Carraro played football and lacrosse in high school and admits he was surprised by the level of play he saw once he came to Denver last year as a freshman. Pioneers head coach Bill Tierney called Carraro a phenomenal athlete who is full of confidence this year.
"Chase is an amazing young man. Last year, he came to us and he was a great young athlete, but he played in Kentucky so everything he did there was great," Tierney said. "He'd be the first to tell you it was a big step up in class, and he had a lot to learn."
The Louisville native has taken all but 42 of the team's faceoffs this year, winning 199 on 326 attempts. He was named ECAC tournament MVP last week and won 16 of 22 draws in the championship game.
"The guy is taking 300-some faceoffs and he's got a bunch of goals too," Tierney said. "A lot of our games have been close at halftime, and then he wins few and gets us a fast break and it makes the team explode."
Tierney said the team's 13-2 record and program-best 10-game winning streak can be traced to an offense scoring nearly 13 goals per game, strong goalie play from freshman Jamie Faus and, perhaps most importantly, Carraro's play on the draw and in transition.
"It's been incredible. It's just so comforting knowing you're going to have the ball most of the time," Tierney said. "We're blessed to know we've got him for another couple years."
Asked to give faceoff advice to young lacrosse players, Carraro said it comes down to who wants to control the ball more.
"There are two sides to facing off. When you're going out there after your team has scored the goal or you've already been on the field, that's when you feel a big confidence boost and you're ready to get another one for your team because your guys just scored," he said. "The other side of it is going out there after the other team has scored, and you sort of have to have a warrior-type attitude."
The Pioneers, 0-3 in NCAA tournament play, face Villanova on Sunday, a team from a more traditional East Coast lacrosse community that has likewise never won an NCAA tournament game. The Wildcats lost their only previous NCAA tournament game in 2009. They will become the first teams in NCAA tournament history to play a game west of the Mississippi River.
"It's the succession of a progression we dreamed about and we're hoping we can continue to be successful and keep following up with doing better each game and better each year," Tierney said. "We'll see. We may be running before we learn to walk, but there's nothing we can do about it now. We're on a slope and we better keep up."