(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)
The Tewaaraton Award has been given out to the nation’s best player every year since 2001. And one trend has been similar since Hofstra midfielder Doug Shanahan took home that first trophy, no defenseman or goalie has ever won the award, at least on the men’s side. The women’s side has seen both the award, but it has only happened once at each position.
In addition, the representation amongst finalists at the defensemen and goalie positions has ben slim, but at least it is there. There have been a total of six defensemen and two goalies who have been named Tewaaraton Finalist. The last defenseman to be named a finalist was Notre Dame’s Matt Landis in 2016 and the last goalie was Syracuse’s John Galloway in 2011. Princeton’s Trevor Tierney is the other goalie, being named a finalist in 2001.
With such little representation from the defensive side of the ball, many ask if there will ever come a day where defensemen or goalie will win the award? Maybe it should’ve already happened by now? Maybe the selection committee gets too caught up in offensive stats and there never will be a winner from the defensive side of the ball?
One thing is clear though, it is a very tall task for a defenseman or a goalie to go up against the best offensive players in the country and be seen as being on a higher pedestal.
But if it were to happen, that player would have to be super special, especially considering the fast-paced, offensive-heavy, attack-focused era of the game that we are in. But exactly how special and what would they exactly need to do to prove their worth as the best college lacrosse player that given season?
The answer is obviously subjective, but here is a look at a few things that a defenseman or a goalie would absolutely have to do in order to win the Tewaaraton Award.
1. Play In The NCAA Tournament
No player has ever won the award and not led their team to, at least, an NCAA Quarterfinal appearance. Being seen is crucial and the NCAA Tournament is the most visible players are all season. Of course, to be a finalist a player must show talents in the regular season, but the way you play in the NCAA Tournament will definitely impact a player’s chances of actually winning the award versus just being a finalist.
2. Must Be The Face of The Franchise
Name an offensive player from the 2011 Syracuse team or an offensive player from Georgetown in 2004 or 2005. Did you have to Google it or think for more than five seconds? Unless you are a diehard fan of one of those schools or a walking lacrosse encylopedia, you likely did. Because we associate John Galloway and Joel White with that 2011 ‘Cuse team and Brodie Merrill with those Georgetown teams before anyone else. They were “the face of the franchise” during that time at those respective schools.
For any player on the defensive end of the field, they must be that for their team if they want any shot at winning the Tewaaraton Award or even being considered a finalist. People will drool all over how many goals or assist an attackman has before they even mention defensemen or goalie. So players on that end of the field must dominate in order to flip the script. And very few have ever done it successfully.
3. Outshine The Competition
A defenseman or goalie is looking to win Tewaaraton Award will need the other finalist, who will likely be attackmen or midfielders, to be seen as lesser than them. In essence, they must outshine the competition that will be standing up on that stage alongside them. In 2016, Matt Landis recorded 28 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers, leading a Notre Dame defense that allowed an average of 7.96 goals per game. He also had the tag reigning Schmeisser Award winner next to his name. At the end of the day, none of that mattered with the eventual winner Dylan Molloy, Myles Jones, Connor Cannizzaro, and Ben Reeves standing up on the stage with him.
Similarly, John Galloway set the world on fire in 2011, posting a .572 save percentage and a 6.70 goals-against-average. And he also had previous career accolades attached to his name. But none of that was going to top eventual winner Steele Stanwick’s 70 points (32G/38A) and seemingly storybook NCAA Tournament run with Virginia.
4. Transition, Transition, Transition!
In the shot clock era, teams must clear the ball downfield quicker than ever before. Because of this defensive players must be able to, at least, initiate the clear or a fastbreak with precision. And it must be consistent, as well.
The defensive players who have the ability to take it from coast to coast, score, assist on a goal, or score a hockey assist are the ones that stick out more than ever in this modern era. In addition, it could also be highly beneficial for a defenseman to be able to play the wings on the faceoff, as it just shows more versatility. And that is what voters are going to be looking for the most after how dominant of a defender a player is.
This criterion isn’t as important for goalies, but they must be able to be smart with the ball in the clearing game – even if they don’t go full Blaze Riordan on opposing teams and be a one-man clear.
5. Must Be The Talk Of The Town
Much like being the “face of the franchise,” any defensive player who has Tewaaraton hopes must dominate the storyline of college lacrosse. The storylines each season usually revolve around offense players, but again, defensive players must flip the script if they want a shot at winning the most coveted award in the college game.
Players like Brodie Merrill demanded the spotlight with their play. But no defensive player has ever been able to demand the spotlight enough to flip the script completely and win the Tewaaraton. Some have come very close, but no defenseman of goalie has ever been able to completely seal the deal and make history.