Sisselberger and Gaffney Share Competitive Drive
Creator: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Mike Sisselberger, who takes on Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, has won 79.5 of his games, which is better than the current NCAA Division I record for one season.
But it was never certain that Sisselberger would see so much game time … Why?
His teammate Conor Gaffney is an All-American himself.
“When you have two of the best guys in the country attacking each other every day, there really isn’t anyone who challenges you more than in practice,” said Sisselberger. “Every day is a competition. It’s a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because we’re sharpening each other’s skills, but you can only send one man there.”
“Conor, recently drafted (by the archers of the Premier Lacrosse League) shows how talented he is and how good we are for each other.”
When Sisselberger entered Lehigh in 2019, he was the best-placed incoming face-off specialist in the country, according to Inside Lacrosse. He joined a faceoff unit that included Gaffney, who won 61.0 percent of his faceoffs as a freshman and 59.4 percent in their sophomore year. Gaffney was also “The Guy” in 2019, becoming Patriot League Faceoff Specialist of the Year after gaining a cool 69.7 percent.
Whether in the classroom or in the field, @LehighLacrosse’s Conor Gaffney will always be a competitor. “His deep commitment is a great example of what you can achieve with the time and effort you put in. # NCAALAX
(via @PatriotLeagueTV) pic.twitter.com/7MgxmYk8pg
– NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) April 9, 2019
However, at the start of this season, things changed due to circumstances beyond Gaffney’s control.
“I was in quarantine for 34 days and most of those days there was two feet of snow on the ground so I couldn’t even jog around the block,” he said. “It was tough, physically and mentally. Mentally, not being able to see the boys at all and physically not being able to train or train when it was preseason and everyone else in the country was training, preparing for the season and coming into the mid-season. “
More than a straight month of quarantine would take a toll on anyone, and Gaffney certainly did.
“I’m not going to lie … I was thinking about going to my parents’ house in Denver,” he said. “I was almost ready to name it [quits]. It seemed like I would never be allowed to play this semester. But I stuck with it and it worked, because now we’re going to the tournament. “
Ultimately, Sisselberger and Gaffney could be the top two faceoff specialists in Patriot League history, and that says something when you consider how many high profile faceoff specialists have made it through the league.
Gaffney is the Patriot League record holder for groundballs in one career and faceoff wins and groundballs in one season. He is within calling distance of the league’s career faceoff and also wins the record. During his first full season, Sisselberger challenges the NCAA records.
Thanks to Conor Gaffney of @LehighLacrosse for setting a school record with 2️⃣4️⃣ faceoff wins last night (with only 29 attempts)
– Lehigh Sports (@LehighSports) April 11, 2019
What makes you so successful?
Prior to this season, the change in the rules for stand-up encounters resulted in Gaffney and Sisselberger helping each other adjust. Conor had been used to it since high school, while Mike had only got one knee down.
“There’s a lot of film about it, but until you really come in and do it, there’s nothing you can see that will make you so much better,” Sisselberger said. “John Bodnar of the Philly Faceoff League makes a lot of good players and I went to him a lot more during the summer when he ran stand-up clinics.”
The new style certainly worked for Sisselberger, exploiting his style and strengths.
“I was a great wrestler in high school so it’s similar,” he said. “You’re really low on the ground. You’re in a crouched position, riding your quads. Your arms only go into the ball more than on one knee because it’s more of a full body movement. You’re really prone to counterattacks. When If you don’t win the ball right away, you can make a few moves to get it out of the other’s stick. ”
Mike Sisselberger ?
1️⃣8️⃣ for 2️⃣3️⃣
The guy’s a monster and @LehighLacrosse tops @navymlax. pic.twitter.com/vA1B61MCvW
– USA Lacrosse Magazine (@USALacrosseMag) April 10, 2021
Since competing against each other in eighth grade, Sisselberger has repeatedly won brackets. That hasn’t changed in 2021, but something else has changed.
“If you win 100 percent of the brackets, it’s still a struggle to actually win the faceoff,” said Gaffney. “The fact that Mike does 80 percent of that, his exits have taken a big step up and he’s devised different ways to get out so the other can’t just play him like that.”
Sisselberger likes to attribute much of his improvement to Gaffney.
“I wouldn’t be so good without going up against a superstar in practice,” he said. “My reaction time and strength are challenged every day. Either it has to increase or I will lose.”
Gaffney and Sisselberger are used to winning, but they win faceoffs in different ways.
“My style is that I’m a grinder … I like to get the whole ball,” said Gaffney. “I like to bring my top rail all the way down, all the way on the other side of the ball, have the whole thing, and then go where I want to go.
“Siss doesn’t always take the full ball,” Gaffney continued. “He developed a really good rip. He only needs about 70 percent of the ball and can get out faster than his opponent can react.”
Make these 4️⃣ @PatriotLeague weekly awards for Mike Sisselberger after winning 15 of his last 16 on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/OTDP8eYhDr
– Lehigh Lacrosse (@LehighLacrosse) April 26, 2021
Regardless of his style, Gaffney believes that technology is the most important factor in a faceoff’s success.
“Not everyone faced is a bodybuilder or a power lifter,” said Gaffney. “You can make your movements stronger, faster, faster and more effective by being technically flawless. When we compete against each other, we can dial in our techniques.”
The duo fight in what they call the “sandpit”.
“We’re in our little field,” said Gaffney. “Everyone I’ve been on a Faceoff team with is very close. We are together all day to practice heads, but we also talk about the other team’s sandpit and what we need to do about them The sandpit is definitely there. ” a brotherhood. “
The Mountain Hawks have a small pipeline in their sandpit that also houses current newbie Matt Brock, who also played an important role in the success of Conor and Mike.
“Matt is the man … we love Matt,” said Gaffney. “He’s gotten better week by week until I think if he went against himself three months ago he’d be cooking the old self. He’s also a great team player who attracts scout looks.”
“I know he doesn’t understand the press, but Matt is pushing us both in ways you wouldn’t think,” Sisselberger said. “He’s really good at recognizing that he might not get the brace every time because he’s up against two really good guys but can now counter well, unlike when he started in the fall. He’s done brilliantly adjusted and I think he could do it very well. ” Start in many other teams in Division I Lacrosse. “
Gaffney admits that the Philly Faceoff League helped all three members of the Mountain Hawks’ sandpit reach that point.
“In my opinion, the Philly Faceoff League has the highest concentration of faceoff talent in the country – run by John Bodnar and Mike Dolente in Philly,” he said. “The pipeline that the [Lehigh] The coaches and training we do at Philly really prepared us to compete like we do and have the success we have. “
Sisselberger and Gaffney define their success in terms of team gains and losses, not statistics or awards. That attitude and approach has enabled them to thrive as each other’s biggest fans.
“In terms of awards, design, and recognition, it’s all great and I appreciate it all, but if I played lacrosse to win prizes, I wouldn’t be good,” said Gaffney. “The recognition from the outside is not what drives me on the inside. It’s much more about competing and wanting to win.
“Validation will take care of itself.”