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Endicott College (Beverly, Mass.) sophomore lacrosse player Sam Ozycz faced adversity last spring. Hernia surgery delayed his chance to contribute at mid-field. When he finally had his opportunity, an unfortunate sequence sidelined him for much longer.
Ozycz, a 2008 Cheshire High School graduate, suffered an assortment of injuries during a game. Prior to that accident, he had won all five face-off attempts.
“I got it toward the end of the game. I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament), meniscus, and had a bone fracture,” recalled Ozycz, who shutdown his freshman season. “It was really tough because I was just coming off a hernia surgery. To go from that to the injury in my third game back, it was depressing.”
The following six months of rehabilitation were long. But, Ozycz was anxious to return to the field.
Endicott is thankful for his determination. With an 18-4 victory over host Curry College on Saturday, the Gulls clinched the top seed for The Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament. Ozycz is a big season why. In 14 games, he leads them in ground balls (61) and face-offs won (92 of 165).
“Sam, as a freshman before his injury, contributed a fair amount for us. To have him back was huge for the program,” said Endicott Head Coach Sean Quirk.
“My knees feel a lot better,” stated Ozycz. “It was great to come back and be able to play. I was trying to do my best for the team.”
His play stood out during home games with Wentworth Institute of Technology (20-4 win; April 13) and Bowdoin College (9-6 loss; April 17). Ozycz produced 21 ground balls and controlled 73 percent of face-offs (33 of 45), receiving TCCC Defensive Player of the Week. He added a goal (five total) in the former game.
“I was happy,” reflected Ozycz, who scooped 17 ground balls and won 23 of 26 face-offs against Wentworth. “It's a good accomplishment for me.”
While not drawing the cheers of acrobatic goals, the face-off is crucial in lacrosse.
“It feels great to contribute like that for the team. I'm glad to win possession,” explained Ozycz. “You need to create that offense.”
“If we had a weakness, it was face-offs and he has taken it to another level,” added Quirk. “I think if you have a good face-off guy and goalie, it turns a good team into a great team. Possession is key in this game.”
Ozycz discovered his niche playing at CHS. The coaching staff chose to move him up from the Junior Varsity level in 2007. He remained a fixture for the final season-and-a-half.
“I kind of fell into it in high school,” reflected Ozycz, who earned All-Southern Connecticut Conference second team for Head Coach Head Coach Rich Pulisciano. “It was a challenge getting that responsibility during my junior year. I was nervous, but proud to be part of the varsity program.”
Endicott has several links back to CHS. Quirk, a 1991 graduate, played four years for former CHS coach Paul Adams and then attended Springfield College with Pulisciano. Junior Kevin Downes (2007 graduate) and sophomore James Sasso (2008 graduate) also transitioned from CHS. Downes has produced personal-bests for ground balls (46) and caused turnovers (14), tallying his first goal during a 9-7 win over Salve Regina on April 22. He was named TCCC Defensive Player of the Week at the start of the season.
“It's great to have two other kids in the program, as well. The connection between Coach Quirk and Coach P (Pulisciano) was comforting,” explained Ozycz, who has bonded with teammates since freshman year. “I'm more comfortable with everybody.”
“It's great. Certainly, Cheshire has a storied program there. They are well-coached and hard-nosed,” reflected Quirk, who is the 10th winning coach all-time in Division III. “I think Rich (Pulisciano) is a really strong coach. He is good at x and o's and a great mentor for the guys. The Cheshire guys know the game very well.”
The Gulls, who hold a 10-7 overall record, are preparing for the TCCC quarterfinals on May 1. They won nine of 10 conference games.
“Our guys are healthy and feeling confident,” said Quirk. “They are ready for this.”