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Winning the Clamp: Paul Rasimowicz

Before there are behind-the-back passes, bone-crushing hits, and net-ripping shots, there is a face-off. Two men, each crouched in an awkward, yet powerful, stance, eyes locked on the white ball between them, wait coiled in anticipation for the sharp whistle that triggers an almost Pavlovian response. Both men go for the ball, but never in the same way.

Whoever has the fastest hands will most likely try to clamp down on the ball with his stick, only to have the head of his opponent’s stick trap him if he isn’t quick enough. The stronger, more powerful player may forget about the ball all-together and explode into his counterpart, driving him off the ball, tightroping the line between hard-nosed play and penalty.

From the stands, this often looks like an awkward dance, as both players seem to be glued together at the helmet, spin counterclockwise around the tiny ball between them. What goes on inside of the skirmish that ensues is typically a secret to the spectators. Feet kick, helmets collide, sticks fly, only to bring the crowd back into the loop once the ball fires out in a seemingly random direction. However, this is not a random direction at all. The winner of this violent chess match is the player who is most able to dictate where the ball shoots out (hopefully, to one of his teammates swooping around the front and back).

Every one in a while, the FOGO gets to do more than “Face Off and Get Off.” If he somehow, after all the chaos, ends up with the ball in his stick, he gets to take it down the field and make a play. Sometimes, this results in highlight reel goals and assists that vault people out of their seats, cheering for the conquering hero: The FOGO. Alas, most of the time, his journey ends after a 15-yard jaunt down the field punctuated by a routine pass to an awaiting attackman or midfielder. Then begins the unceremonious sprint back to the sideline where he is greeted with a gloved high-five and an approving pat on the helmet as he is replaced by a new midfielder who hopes to poach all of the goals and assists from his good friend, the FOGO.

A man that knows this experience all too well is Paul Rasimowicz, the FOGO of the men’s lacrosse team. Playing four years of varsity lacrosse in high school, Rasimowicz was an All-American and winner of the 2014 Face-off Academy Championship. Thrust into action early his freshman year, Rasimowicz has managed to win about half of his face-offs so far, facing the highest level of competition in the country.

He shares his experience in this interview:

RC: Facing off can be as mental as it is physical. If you’ve lost four or five in a row, how do you dig yourself out of that hole? Is it as simple as taking it one face-off at a time and having a short-term memory?

PR: This is definitely one of the most difficult aspects of the position. It can be very frustrating losing a couple of face-offs in a row, but you need to have a short-term memory and stay calm. s our face-off coach, Coach Reissman, teaches, don’t let one loss turn into 10.

RC: In your experience, is it harder to account for speed or power? Can brute strength compensate for a fast clamp?

PR: This is a hard question to answer. I would say that the most difficult part of facing off at the college level is going against someone who is very athletic and is either fast off the whistle or strong on the clamp. Most “FOGO”s are not the most athletic kids and therefore it is possible to counter their moves, whether they are fast or strong, and get possession of the ball for our team.

RC: What was it like transitioning to Cornell, where achieving a dominant 70, 80, or 90 face-off percentage is much harder to come by?

PR: Transitioning to the college level at any position is very challenging. It is unbelievable how much faster the college game is and just how good everyone is. Everyone you play against is the best player from his area and he’s usually a lot bigger than the kids you faced in high school.

RC: What is your opinion on the term “FOGO”? Do you feel that “Face-Off, Get Off” is a slight or sells you short in any way?

PR: I never had an issue with this term. Our job is simply to face-off and win our team possession of the ball. If I get the ball down to our attack, I did my job and then it is the attack’s turn to do its jobs and score.

RC: What is your favorite part about facing off?

PR: My favorite part of facing off is working with my wings, Brandon Salvatore and Kason Tarbell usually, and being able to put the ball in a position where they would push transition and our team could score a goal. Brandon Salvatore earned the nickname “field general” after being so aggressive on ground balls off the face-offs this preseason. I also love pushing the ball forward and getting a fast-break goal after passing the ball off.

RC: It’s often been said that football players and wrestlers are the best athletes to try and develop into a FOGO. What sport do you think is the easiest to cross over from into facing off?

PR: I would argue that this is a combination of football and wrestling. I wrestled at a young age and I think the concepts of staying low and using your body to your advantage definitely helps. I also believe football teaches you to be comfortable in the chaos and lets you take hits.

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