California Redwoods faceoff specialist TD Ierlan

Inside TD Ierlan’s big day at the stripe vs. Trevor Baptiste

By Jerome Taylor | Jun 19, 2024

TD Ierlan showed why he is one of the premier faceoff specialists in the Premier Lacrosse League against the New York Atlas on Sunday. 

Only Zac Tucci (69.4) and Joe Nardella (46.8) had more fantasy points as faceoff specialists than Ierlan (45.2) in Week 3, and they both played the Philadelphia Waterdogs – who don’t dress someone to take faceoffs. 

Ierlan was at the stripe going one-on-one with the great one. 

On top of having the highest-scoring offense in the league right now, four-time Paul Cantabene Faceoff Man of the Year Award winner Trevor Baptiste gets the ball to the Atlas a lot.  

Heading into last weekend’s games, Baptiste had won 84.4% of his faceoffs. Ierlan won 70.6% of his against the Atlas on Father’s Day, going 16-10 directly against Baptiste, who exited the game in the fourth quarter. 

It was a matchup California Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent was excited for going into Philadelphia. 

“It's like Ali and Frazier every time those two go at it,” St. Laurent said before the game. “It's like no holds barred, and it's a treat for the fans. Even as a coach, there's times where I'm watching those two compete against each other. And I'm just like, ‘Woof, this is fun.’”

The head-to-head matchup between Team USA’s two faceoff specialists went Ierlan’s way despite the game’s result – a 20-15 win for undefeated New York.

But Ierlan and Baptise weren’t in a singles match. 

The faceoff wings performance 

“My wings were incredible today,” Ierlan said when asked about his performance against the Atlas. “Between [Chris] Merle, [Brian] Tev[lin], Nak[eie Montgomery], IDA (Isaiah Davis-Allen), those guys are killers out there. … The stats are very misleading.”

Of all the players he mentioned in the postgame press conference, the Redwoods' offseason addition and longtime pole-in-the-side of Ierlan’s, Jared Conners, was essential to Ierlan’s success at the stripe. 

“Any time there was a 50-50 ground ball, it was nice to have Jared Connors, which has haunted me my whole life, from high school,” he said. “... Seeing those footsteps come up, I was like, 'Oh, I recognize them,’ but it's for the good guys.”

No longer Section V rivals in New York, Ierlan (Victor Senior High School) won 59% of the 22 faceoffs against Baptiste when Conners (Pittsford) was on a wing. 

Of the eight lineups that the Redwoods threw out against Baptise and company, Conners was a part of three of them. 

Even when the faceoff unit didn’t win possession, which was bound to happen, especially against Baptiste, Conners’ pressure caused problems for the opposing units, who were naturally sped up because of the shortened shot clock after a faceoff win. 

In the play below, Conners’ slap checks on Tyler Carpenter’s bottom hand cause a missed first-time ground ball and an errant throw in the Atlas’ defense zone. This gives the Woods offense a full shot clock, and they didn’t even have to clear the ball. 

Conners wasn’t Ierlan’s only assistance. 

After Chris Fake left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury, Tevlin picked up a pole and took on some long-stick midfielder responsibilities, resulting in him being a part of five of the eight wing lineups that the Woods trotted out against Baptiste-led units. 

Ierlan and Tevlin’s chemistry resulted in faceoff units with those two on the field producing a 60% win rate. That included the play below, where Ierlan and Baptiste get locked into a 25-second-plus battle for the ball before Tevlin ultimately creates space for himself soccer-style to scoop up the GB.

As Ierlan alluded to, his wings certainly elevated his statistical performance, but that shouldn’t diminish his individual play against Baptiste. 

Ierlan’s clean wins against Baptiste

With most of the league dressing a faceoff specialist again, the separation between tremendous and good faceoff play is determined by what you do after you win the ball. 

Ierlan was not just beating Baptiste; in the case below, he proved he can threaten opposing defenses when he’s coming straight down the field with a head of steam. 

“They both need to get much more credit than just being faceoff guys,” St. Laurent said. “... Trevor's out there setting steam picks, razor picks, he's scoring, and then TD for us does the same thing.

“Their games have evolved so much. Those two are noted as two of the best faceoff guys, but they both need to be recognized more for just being great lacrosse players.” 

Based on what we’ve seen from the Redwoods offense so far, transition is their friend, and Ierlan created several of those opportunities.

Even in his losses, Ierlan’s ability to stay patient and move on to the next part of his job – limit the Atlas’ transition – was superb. 

In the play below, after a seven-second scrum with Baptiste, he loses the faceoff but picks off the pass to create a counter-break for the Woods, leading to a powerplay opportunity.

Sitting at 0-2, the Redwoods have some things to tidy up on both ends of the field before their game against Brennan O’Neill and the Denver Outlaws on June 29. But Ierlan’s play at the stripe has been steady so far, and he and his wings have done their part to win possession battles. 

Now, it’s up to the rest of the squad to make opponents pay.