When Cal Paduda’s father heard his son’s newest idea, he looked at him like he was out of his mind.
“Cal, you’re crazy,” Joe Paduda said. “It’s Syracuse.”
“You know what, Dad? I want to try it, at least,” Cal Paduda responded.
His father obliged, but told him he had to find a faceoff coach to elevate his game to the next level to have any chance of playing lacrosse at Syracuse. And that’s exactly what his son did. Starting in early February of last year, Paduda took a gap year, training with Major League Lacrosse faceoff star Pete Vlahakis in Connecticut, to become faceoff-savvy and find his way onto SU’s roster. His training paid off, and now Paduda is one of Syracuse’s main faceoff guys heading into the 2013 season.
“(Pete’s) basically a faceoff guru,” Paduda said. “He taught me pretty much everything I know about facing off. All the credit goes to him.”
Paduda didn’t even know he wanted to make faceoffs his forte until his junior season. He had flip-flopped between goalie and defensive midfielder, and hadn’t found his niche as a lacrosse player quite yet.
Paduda recalled a game in May 2011 in which Loomis Chaffee High School (Windsor, Conn.) was playing one of its rivals, Taft School. Loomis Chaffee’s faceoff specialist and current Duke wrestler Ryan Harding was struggling at the X, so head coach Ted Garber went to his backup. Paduda came in and put on a clinic, controlling 12 of 13 faceoffs as the Pelicans stormed back into the game.
“That was definitely the moment where I realized, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this,’” Paduda said with a laugh.
But he wasn’t good enough. Not yet, anyway. He had only gotten looks from Division-III schools, so his work was far from finished. After his senior year, he reached out to Vlahakis, who led MLL with a faceoff success rate of nearly 60 percent in 2007, and has excelled at the position since he entered the league in 2004.
The Denver Outlaws midfielder saw potential in Paduda right away, so he worked to craft him into a more faceoff-savvy player. Paduda and Vlahakis met twice a week, starting in February, training whenever the former wasn’t working at Lacrosse Unlimited.
Vlahakis sharpened Paduda’s shooting ability, strength, conditioning and mental game, but his biggest area of emphasis was faceoffs. It’s what Vlahakis excelled at, and what Paduda could, and would, excel at.
He said motivating Paduda wasn’t hard at all. The 18-year-old wanted to learn and was eager to put in the time to play for Syracuse.
“Not only does he get it physically, but mentally he has a tough attitude,” Vlahakis said. “To be a faceoff guy, you’ve got to be tough mentally, always be willing to play for every ball and outwork all your opponents.”
During his gap year, Paduda typically woke up at 6:30 a.m. and went to a nearby field with a retractable goal and ball. Rifling shots and working on his form for hours, he made serious strides in his game. Paduda worked 30-40 hours a week at Lacrosse Unlimited, training with Vlahakis when he wasn’t at the store.
The most difficult adjustment for Paduda was learning to accept that losing some faceoffs is simply part of the job description. Vlahakis is considered a dominant faceoff man in MLL, despite losing 40 percent of faceoffs throughout his career.
Paduda expects a lot out of himself now that he’s become a polished, technically sound faceoff specialist, so he sets the bar at around 55 percent, but he can’t stand losing close to half of them.
“That’s something I’m getting used to, because being a goalie, 55 percent isn’t that good, so it’s kind of like a transition,” Paduda said.
Paduda won five of 11 faceoffs against Hofstra, but responded with a strong performance in Syracuse’s next scrimmage against Holy Cross, controlling five of six. That 59 percent success rate is above Paduda’s goal, and essentially on par with Vlahakis’ mark.
He hasn’t mastered the art of faceoffs yet, but he’s taken serious strides, emerging as a reliable option heading into Syracuse’s season opener against Albany on Sunday at 4 p.m.
After the Orange struggled at the faceoff X last season, SU head coach John Desko hopes Paduda can serve as a consistent faceoff presence. Syracuse won just 46 percent of its faceoffs in 2012, so Desko placed extra emphasis on finding players who could contribute immediately at that spot.
Said Desko: “It’s really a fine line on the faceoff… So anybody who can help you improve on your skills just a little bit at the faceoff can make the differencein the world.”
Published on February 13, 2013 at 1:12 am
Contact Trevor: firstname.lastname@example.org | @TrevorHass