April 12, 2013

Weekender: Endicott's Wizard of Ozycz

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

He already had job offers, but Endicott's faceoff wizard Sam Ozycz decided to return for his last year of eligibility with the Gulls. So far, he's winning 73 percent of his draws and, more importantly, has Endicott eyeing a return to the top of the Commonwealth Coast Conference.
© David Le Photography

Sam Ozycz was gone. Moving on. Starting the next phase of his life.

He had a great run playing for Endicott, capping off a career that included more than 1,100 faceoffs and a 63.7 winning percentage by earning honorable mention All-American accolades for the Gulls. And he would always have the memory of leading his team to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2011 and winning 12-of-23 draws from future USILA faceoff specialist of the year Tyler Granelli of Salisbury.

With a couple of job offers from financial institutions in New York City waiting him after graduation last spring, it was time to start the next phase of his life.

Or was it?

He still had a year of eligibility left from his freshman year when he snapped his ACL after just three games, and Endicott sure could use his dominance for another run at the Commonwealth Coast Conference title.

"We sat down quite a bit and we weighed out the positives and negatives of coming back and getting his Master's in business and the ability to play another year, and the positives and negatives of going out into the real world," said Endicott head coach Sean Quirk. "He came back pretty quickly and said, 'I have another year, I want to get my MBA eventually and I have the rest of my life to work. I want to compete to win a CCC championship.'"

"It was a tough decision," admitted Ozycz (pronounced OH-zick). "I wanted to start working, but in talking with Coach Quirk, he said I could come back and be a leader and contribute my one year. If I didn't come back, that could have been a regret of mine. Looking back, it's one of the best decisions I've made. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Playing with a calmness that he admits he didn't have in the early part of his career, Ozycz is putting together his most dominating season to date. He has won 217 of the 299 draws he's taken this year for a staggering 72.6 winning percentage, good for third in the country. His total draws taken is the most in D-III and he has taken all but 10 of the team's total faceoffs.

His ability to improve on his ownership of the dot has come from a Zen-like realization that there is something to be said for having a level-headed approach to his duties instead of beating himself up about the one that got away.

"He would get frustrated in the past because he demands and expects so much of himself," Quirk said. "He's a fierce competitor. He does not want to lose faceoffs. He takes a lot of pride in it, but he has found that balance where it's 'OK, I'm going to lose a couple here and there and then I just go back to where I know I'm going to get the next one.' It's almost like a goalie letting in goals. It's going to happen; it's how you handle that."

"That was definitely me," said Ozycz of his higher-strung previous self. "It was a high stress thing, and it even happened last year. This year, there is more relief. Coming back for my graduate year, I feel a lot more mature, older. I haven't put as much pressure on myself as I have in the past."

It's probably a good thing that there is no internal pressure because he's getting plenty of it from outside sources. He is receiving all of the special treatments that premier FOGOs get — double poles, collapsing wings, etc. In Tuesday's 12-10 upset of No. 4 Tufts, Ozycz torched the Jumbos' regular faceoff man for nine of the first 11 draws, forcing the visitors to use a long-stick midfielder in hopes of slowing him down.

"Tufts threw the pole at me and usually when a team does that, they are just trying to mess with my hands," Ozycz said. "If I'm winning it cleanly, the pole has the longer reach to mess me up and not allow me to get a fast break. It's more of a defensive move."

Ozycz finished the game with 19 wins on 26 attempts, along with a goal.

For a lot of players, especially in the Division III ranks, being named to the Tewaaraton watch list as Ozycz was would also be a source of pressure. Quirk says that his team doesn't emphasize individual awards, not that it would have mattered.

"Honestly, I never really heard of the Tewaaraton Award," Ozycz said, sheepishly.

The emphasis for Ozycz, and the rest of the Endicott squad, is making amends for last year, which ended suddenly in the Commonwealth Coast semifinals in a 12-6 loss to Roger Williams — the first time since 2003 that the Gulls had not advanced to the league championship game.

"It was kind of a motivation," Ozycz said about the end of last spring. "It's not anger, but it motivated me to come back and want to completely turn it around. This team is more than capable of repeating what we did back in 2011."

On Saturday, Endicott will attempt to solidify that turnaround. Although the Tufts win was thrilling, this weekend's rematch with Roger Williams has the air of unfinished business. It's the only thing on Ozycz's mind.

He has the rest of his life to work.

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