Preseason Player of the Year: Tewaaraton in Baptiste's Future?

PHOTO BY GREG SHEMITZ

Trevor Baptiste finished last season winning 74.4 percent of faceoffs, which was the the fourth-best number in college lacrosse history.


Trevor Baptiste had no expectations when he got to Denver in the fall of 2014. The story has been told time and again — Baptiste, a late recruit out of Morristown-Beard (N.J.),  was headed for a college career at Franklin & Marshall as a field player, but coach Bill Tierney and Denver discovered him at a Faceoff Academy event and convinced him to give the Pioneers a try.

The rest is, literally, history. Denver won the 2015 national title and Baptiste has become one of the best faceoff men in the history of the game.

But he had no idea the impact he’d have on the game.

“I thought I might be able to get some time, but early on, I didn’t think I was going to come in and be a big force for them,” Baptiste said of his first fall at Denver. “I thought of myself as an average faceoff guy.”

An average faceoff guy? Tierney knew there was nothing ordinary about Baptiste. It took just a couple games, namely a 25-for-34 performance against Duke in 2015 — to realize he had something no other program had.

“We looked at each other and said ‘Oh my god. This is special,’” Tierney said. “It wasn’t a flash in a pan. It wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He did it game-in and game-out.”

Baptiste came onto the scene during Denver’s championship run in 2015 and hasn’t stopped. He’s topped his faceoff percentage every season, with 68 percent in 2015, 69.4 percent in 2016 and 74.4 percent in 2017 — the fourth-best total in NCAA history.

He’s already accomplished more than almost every faceoff man in NCAA history, and he’s got another season to continue to add to his legacy.

“Unfortunately, many lacrosse guys, after they're out of the game for two or three years, young people say ‘Who is he?’” Tierney said. “Trevor may be one of those guys that stays in the history of the game.”







Baptiste was one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award in 2017, and although Matt Rambo took home the award, many believe he was the best player in the nation. Could 2018 be the year that Baptiste becomes the first faceoff man (and Denver player) to win the sport’s most prestigious individual award?

Baptiste doesn’t like to think about numbers of accolades. but the prospect of winning a Tewaaraton still means something to him. 

“That would mean the world to me,” Baptiste said. “It would be such an honor to win that award, with everything that it represents. It would be huge for the faceoff position, for the younger guys that aspire to be faceoff specialists. They’d look at me like ‘You’re important. You could be considered the best player in the nation as a faceoff specialist.’ That would be awesome.”

Even replicating last year’s totals could put him in the conversation, but both Baptiste and Tierney believe he’s better than in 2017. In some ways, Baptiste will simply be expanding the resume for the greatest faceoff man in college history.

But he won’t be satisfied. He’s still the same player that brought a cell phone to practices during his freshman year, just so he could mimic the timing of a faceoff using an iPhone app. Tierney said there’s still another level that Baptiste can reach.

And his work started long before Denver kicked off practices in the fall. Baptiste was invited to train with the U.S. national team in preparation for the 2018 FIL World Championships in Netanya, Israel. He competed alongside his idol, Greg Gurenlian, along with Brendan Fowler, Tom Kelly and Joe Nardella.

 “What he had to do to compete with Fowler and Gurenlian and Kelly was to get stronger,” Tierney said. “So he went ahead and did that. The college game, the way the faceoff game is adjudicated, you just have to know the game and be quicker. By him getting stronger, he hasn’t lost any quickness, he’s even stronger now.”

A stronger Baptiste is a scary thought for faceoff men across the country. But Baptiste hasn’t just improved his game at X. Through his time playing for the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League over the summer — where Tierney barred him from doing faceoffs — Baptiste honed his skills with the stick and playing in tight spaces.

“It’s probably one of the best things I could have done this offseason,” he said. “Stick handling, making better decisions with the ball and in close spaces, that all boiled down to my role at Denver. It’s helped me tremendously.”

After a historic season that saw Denver and Baptiste advance to the final four, one of the best faceoff men in history is back for more. It’s a career that almost didn’t happen, and one that Baptiste himself never anticipated.

“What Trevor has done is validated the [faceoff] position that a lot of people are now recruiting two of three faceoff guys a year, making sure that they have somebody who can compete game-in and game-out,” Tierney said.

“I really didn’t think all of this was possible,” Tierney said.

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