Fundamental wing play and a match up against a player who hadn’t taken any faceoffs last season were the keys to freshman faceoff specialist Justin Shockey’s success last Saturday. Yet one of the main reasons for Shockey’s recent success is volunteer assistant coach Tyler Barbarich.
Barbarich, who works primarily with the faceoff specialists on the team, is halfway through his first season with the team after spending the last six years with the University of Delaware men’s lacrosse team, both as a player and volunteer assistant coach.
Shockey earned his second Big Ten honors of the year yesterday after a dominant 80 percent performance at the faceoff X against the Tar Heels. The Potomac, Maryland native said Barbarich has made the transition from high school lacrosse to the college level that much smoother.
“The transition from high school to college is usually really tough for a lot of people,” Shockey said. “But with a great coach like Tyler he’s really been able to help me improve some things I need to work on at the X and help me take my game to the next level.”
Shockey was named the USA Today high school lacrosse player of the year last season after continuous dominance for an undefeated Landon side. The Naval Academy transfer said an increased emphasis on stick protection has helped the most in his transition to college lacrosse.
However, transitioning that success wasn’t easy at first.
“I just think the big thing for [Justin] is when he first got here, he had Austin, Bonaparte and Giovinco,” Barbarich said. “And I think he thought he’d just continue his way of winning faceoffs, but he found out real quick it’s a lot harder than flicking the ball out and scooping it up.”
Barbarich was a three-year starter at the faceoff specialist position at the University of Delaware after coming out of high school as a two-way midfielder to go with his prolific record facing off. Originally allowing him to play both offense and faceoff for the team, longtime Blue Hens head coach Bob Shillinglaw helped Barbarich see that faceoffs were the best route for his lacrosse career.
“The way he kind of explained it was, ‘You can either be great at one or be good at both,’” Barbarich said.
Hailing from one of the best New Jersey public high school lacrosse programs in Bridgewater-Raritan, Barbarich won the state’s midfielder of the year after his senior season of high school. After Delaware starting faceoff specialist Dan Cooney went down with an injury during Barbarich’s freshman season, Barbarich’s focus turned directly to winning possession off the draw.
Now, Barbarich will report to training camp for the Chesapeake Bayhawks for the upcoming Major League Lacrosse season in the summer. Shillinglaw, who retired after 39 seasons at the helm at Delaware, is now joining the Chesapeake Bayhawks coaching staff as an assistant.
“I’m sure him being a part of that staff had a part of me getting called back up so I’m excited to get another chance with them,” Barbarich said.
While Barbarich is not a full-time assistant coach with Maryland, playing professionally helps him stay sharp, allowing him to bring his experiences playing against the very best to the No. 2 team in the country. Still, Barbarich remained on the practice squad for the Bayhawks last season without suiting up for a single game.
“I think the big thing for me is that I see the other side of it because some guys might not start and be upset, but I can walk them through everything,” Barbarich said. “When I go to the Bayhawks, I don’t play, I don’t dress. But when I go to the guys who don’t play here, I can help them through it because I’m going through the same thing myself.”
Such a mentality would be especially important for junior faceoff specialist Austin Henningsen, whose starting spot was given to the red-hot Shockey. Henningsen has started the last three seasons, but after Jon Garino Jr.’s great postseason run last season and an inconsistent start to 2018, Shockey has been the preferred option.
“I think the big thing about it is that he can relate to players,” Shillinglaw said. “I’d consider him more of a player’s coach. I certainly saw that in him during his time with us as players would come and talk to him, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to talk to them of how to better their game.”
Shillinglaw has fostered some of the best faceoff specialists in college lacrosse history. Former Blue Hens Steve Shaw (1983-1986) holds the honors for best career faceoff percentage at 70.7 percent, while Alex Smith (2004-2007) has the most faceoff wins of all time at 1,027 with Denver’s Trevor Baptiste not too far behind.
Barbarich came into the program last August to replace Chris Mattes, who snatched an opportunity to join the New England Patriots after winning the 2017 NCAA Championship.
“I don’t know if he knew me, but I’ve known Chris for seven or eight years now. He gave me a clinic while he was still at Rutgers,” said Barbarich. “We have the same coaching philosophy on a lot of the same things.”
Shockey noted Mattes as one of his biggest mentors before entering the college game, yet noticed the best of both worlds.
“They’re both really some of the best coaches at the position and have really helped me out a lot,” Shockey said. “They have really different styles, but for me personally taking some of what Chris teaches and some of what Tyler teaches and kind of integrating them together has really helped me out a lot, and I know it’s helped the other guys too.”
The transition has been just as easy for the players on the wings of faceoffs, as senior midfielder Adam DiMillo, who compared the faceoff unit to a special teams unit in football, pointed out the ease of getting to know the new coach.
“It’s been a seamless transition. Both those guys have a lot of experience both professionally and collegiately,” DiMillo said. “They both work for great organizations that build faceoff guys from little kids up to college athletes. They kind of have the same mindset and mentalities.”
Barbarich works with the Faceoff Factory to provide clinics to developing faceoff players whenever he has free time to set one up. Founded in 2011 by former Rutgers and current Boston Cannon Joe Nardella and former Loyola Greyhound Blake Burkhart, the Faceoff Factory’s summer camp remains one of the most popular clinic for the top professionals to teach their craft to the next generation.
Whether it’s through his time with the Faceoff Factory or as a volunteer assistant at Maryland, Barbarich appreciates seeing different styles of faceoff specialists flourish.
“I just think it’s cool to do for us to teach them how to do it the right way, but not our specific way,” Barbarich said. “I think there are a lot of coaches out there saying, ‘Hey this is what works for me so you should do it.’ The way we [at the Faceoff Factory] do it is break it up to each individual person. So as long as they’re facing off the right way, I think that’s probably the coolest part.”
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