Junior faceoff specialist Austin Henningsen wore the No. 18 jersey his first two years as Maryland’s starting possession-getter. This season, Henningsen went down in both jersey number and playing time.
Now sporting the No. 17, Henningsen’s starting position was taken by the top-ranked faceoff recruit in his class, freshman Justin Shockey. In what easily could have been a fall from grace after a historic freshman season, Henningsen now thrives in his new role.
“Roles change all the time, you just have to be ready when you’re name is called,” he said.
Henningsen holds the record for the most faceoffs won by a freshman, winning 151 back in 2016. Perhaps knowing the kind of impact a freshman like Shockey can have with the starting position, after having success his first year himself, he has taken to his new role better than most expected.
“What stuck out to me is that he’s kind of been the go-to guy for the last two years,” redshirt senior midfielder Tim Rotanz said. “Now that Justin Shockey came in and took his position a little bit, Austin was unfazed. He keeps working and didn’t let it get to his head and didn’t let that be a setback for him. He comes off the bench when his number’s called.”
Henningsen has been terrific coming off the bench recently, winning more than 50 percent of his faceoffs in three of the last four contests, especially late in games. With the Big Ten regular season title on the line against archrivals John Hopkins, Henningsen won 4-of-5 clutch, fourth-quarter faceoffs.
Last week in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Henningsen won 14-of-18 faceoffs to spur the Terps to a huge second half comeback to advance to their fifth straight quarterfinal appearance over Robert Morris.
“I think the last game when they threw me in there at the end of the second quarter, a little rocky, and then I got my momentum going and finished pretty well,” Henningsen said, noting that game as his best performance of the season thus far.
“We’re just concerned that the guys that are starting just don’t seem to do quite as well,” head coach John Tillman said. “We continue to work on them because we know just how important faceoffs are, and you saw that on Sunday. We would score, get the ball back, score get the ball back. Offensively, you’re getting into a groove.”
While the Terps have struggled with inconsistencies at the faceoff X all season long, whoever starts seems to struggle more, no matter if it’s Shockey or Henningsen, much like the end of last season.
“It’s been interesting, the faceoffs at times have been really confusing and frustrating for the coaches because we have good players, and it seems like Austin has been better coming off the bench,” said Tillman. “I’m not sure why, but I’m hoping that a trend continues similar to what Jon Garino did last year.”
Garino was key in Maryland’s postseason victories over two of the nation’s best faceoff specialists, TD Irelan of Albany and Trevor Baptiste of Denver (who actually play each other this weekend!). Tillman will be looking for Henningsen to provide a similar presence.
Maryland is among a select few programs to have a devoted faceoff coach in the form of volunteer assistant coach Tyler Barbarich, who replaced C.J. Mattes last summer.
Barbarich has helped Henningsen remain ready even after getting benched by drawing on his own professional experiences, as he has made the practice team but doesn’t dress for games. This season, Barbarich plays for the Chesapeake Bayhawks, along with defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt.
“Coach Tillman did a great job of bringing on coach Barbarich this year,” Henningsen said. “He was a great player himself in the college game so it’s nice having a guy like that having our backs on the sideline and getting us ready.”
Barbarich, along with the rest of the coaching staff, utilizes technology to make the crucial in-game adjustments that most teams won’t ever see.
“The big thing we have access to is these iPads on the sidelines so we’re able to examine what we did wrong on the sidelines so we get a whole other perspective of what happened,” Henningsen said.
“When you’re on the sideline, you can’t really see everything that’s going on in the faceoff – especially on the TV copy it’s very hard to see. But when you have the iPad you see the entire thing, it zooms in and you can see who moves first, or what kind of counter they did. It’s hard to see all that stuff on the sideline sometimes, but once you have the access to it like we do it’s a whole other world.”
This advantage on the sideline has translated to more success getting possessions on the field, especially later in games after Barbarich makes the necessary adjustments. Whoever takes the faceoff, Barbich queues up the instant feed to replay the different angles, zoom and the players learn how to attack the next play more effectively.
For Henningsen, whether it’s performing when his name his called or helping Shockey game plan for the next draw when he gets back on the sideline, he only cares about one thing.
“Honestly, it’s not about faceoffs,” Henningsen said. “No matter what my role is, I just want to help the team. No matter what it is, if I’m playing or on the sideline, I just want to help the team win.”
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