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Women’s Tewaaraton Watch: Kylie Ohlmiller or Sam Apuzzo?

Two Long Island upperclassmen have emerged as the favorites for the award midway through the 2018 season.

The 2018 Final Four is at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium; could we be in for an Ohlmiller-vs.-Apuzzo national title game?
Photo by Skyler Gilbert

Kylie Ohlmiller plays attack for one of the premier women’s lacrosse programs in the country. She hails from the south shore of Long Island, where in high school, she was tabbed a US Lacrosse All-American. Now, she is an upperclassman captain on a national power offense. She’s a walking highlight reel and on the verge of breaking all-time NCAA records.

As for Sam Apuzzo, well, she’s all of those things too.

Stony Brook and Boston College are the only two undefeated women’s lacrosse teams in the NCAA this season, with a combined 20-0 record. The Seawolves have an average victory margin of 8.9 goals per game, while the Eagles are beating their foes by 8.2 goals per game.

Stony Brook has played a slightly harder schedule so far, but Boston College has a more difficult remaining schedule, playing in the ACC, the toughest conference in women’s lacrosse, within which they are already 3-0.

Needless to say, these two squads can play. Both teams are stout on defense, dynamic in transition and versatile on offense, and boast the two best players in the country, Ohlmiller and Apuzzo.

While the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s de facto “most outstanding player” trophy, is given to an attackman almost every season on the men’s side, the women’s award is almost always given to a midfielder; namely, it is usually given to a Maryland midfielder, as it has in seven of the last eight seasons.

We could debate the legitimacy of some of those awards (the Tewaaraton is nearly always given to a player on one of the top-two teams in the country and some of the recent awards don’t seem appropriate when looking at the statistical value of a given player), but that’s not the purpose of this article.

It is still early in the season, but given the performances of Kylie Ohlmiller and Sam Apuzzo thus far, coupled with the lack of any standout Maryland players, the award seems destined to be given to one of the two attackers, so let’s dive into the numbers.

Offensive production

Apuzzo currently leads the nation with 52 goals and 76 points, or 4.3 goals and 6.3 points per game. Against her toughest competition, Apuzzo’s level of play has risen to an even higher level. On February 27 in a game against No. 11 Navy, Apuzzo set a program record with nine goals. This past weekend against No. 5 North Carolina, she accrued four goals and five assists.

Ohlmiller has 35 goals and 55 points in four fewer games, but the average production is almost exactly the same as Apuzzo: 4.4 goals and 6.9 points per game. Through eight games last season, Ohlmiller had 55 points as well, and eventually set the NCAA single-season record for points in a season, 164. Like Sam, Kylie has a knack for coming up huge in the most critical moments. In the Seawolves’ game against the No. 13 Towson Tigers a week ago, Ohlmiller scored seven goals.

Stony Brook has eight more remaining games against very weak America East competition (six regular season contests and two postseason games), so Ohlmiller should produce at an even faster pace as the season goes on. Last year, she ended the year at a clip of 7.45 points per game. If the trend continues, she will likely reclaim her title as national scoring leader, as she did last year, beating Apuzzo 164 to 119.

One additional note on Ohlmiller: right now she has 395 career points, 51 shy of breaking Jen Adams’ all-time NCAA career record of 445. In addition, she has 197 career assists, which is 28 shy of breaking Hannah Nielsen’s all-time NCAA career record of 224.

If she maintains her combined scoring pace from the last two seasons, she would break the points record at home against UMBC on April 21 and the assists record at home against Penn State on April 24.

Play style and highlights

Apuzzo, the junior from West Babylon High School, plays on the left side of the Boston College attack with a right-handed shot (although she has scored with lefty shots this year too). Her ability to run full-speed, stop on a dime, and switch directions is rarely seen in women’s lacrosse. Here is one example from the Eagles’ win against Navy, in which Apuzzo sheds her defender with off-ball in-and-out cuts.

Once she warded off her opponent, she played a stutter-step on her opponent and made an inside duck move toward the interior of the defense. She faked a shot low then finished high to find the back of the net.

For an offensive player as tagged as Apuzzo, a good portion of the offense needs to be created off-the-ball. In this play, from this weekend’s win against North Carolina, she works around the back of the cage and passes up top to a teammate. When the Tar Heels defenders make a switch, she stealthy steps backward to lose her new defender and cuts to the goal-front where she catches the return pass, turns and scores.

She’s not bad on isolation plays from the X either, see here: again from the Navy game. After working around the cage at full speed, she breaks in an instant, pivots her stick to her right-hand side and scores a goal, falling away, jumping off of her left foot. The footwork is insane on this play.

Notice the shot accuracy. The keeper’s stick is occupying the high-near-side of the net, and Apuzzo shoots it there anyway and beats her, into a four-inch-by-four-inch window above the goal stick, beneath the crossbar and to the left of the near post.

As for Kylie, she might be the best lacrosse passer on the planet, in either gender. In an interview last year, she called the chemistry she has with her sister Taryn “telepathy.” Here is a behind-the-back feed from Kylie to Taryn from the Towson game.

If you watch enough lacrosse, you’ll see some BTB highlights. They’re difficult, but makeable plays from elite-level players. But most of the time, the player passing it isn’t threading it past three opposing players, inches above the crossbar, to an opponent on the far side. The only reason that Ohlmiller was able to make this insane pass even work was because she disguised it so well and released it so quickly. Look at the goalie; she doesn’t even react to the ball until it’s past her.

Other than her unmatched field vision, Ohlmiller is able to produce so well on offense because of her balance. When she plays, she constantly is twisting at the hips, bending at the knees and back, and switching handedness to avoid defenders. This goal, scored in the Seawolves win against Michigan, demonstrates that.

Free-position scoring is a staple of the women’s game, where fouls are often assessed for body checking or occupying the “shooting space.” But on the college level, almost nobody opts to shoot from the sharpest angled near-side hash like Ohlmiller does here. The defenders close too quickly; it’s not seen as a wise play. Ohlmiller is the “almost nobody” in this scenario.

Look at the speed with which she gets off the line and switches to a right-handed grip to evade her defenders. Then she tiptoes the crease line while falling down and beats the goalkeeper to the far side.

Apuzzo on the draw

Ohlmiller and Apuzzo are both game-changing offensive players, but in Apuzzo impacts the game in one way that Ohlmiller does not: on the draw.

Apuzzo is the main draw specialist for the Boston College women, and she’s elite at it. Individual faceoff statistics aren’t kept in the women’s game (only draw controls are) for reasons that are hard to understand (Dear NCAA: Change this.). But Apuzzo’s overall impact on the draw can be approximated by looking at the team draw control numbers.

Boston College is winning 61.3 percent of draws this season, an incredible efficiency. Here’s how that compares to some other elite programs in 2018.

  • Stony Brook — 53.2 percent
  • Maryland — 60.0 percent
  • North Carolina — 56.7 percent
  • James Madison — 51.6 percent
  • Loyola — 48.3 percent

Boston College is elite in the draw circle, compared with other top programs, and most of this can be attributed to Apuzzo. (Not entirely, though. Faceoffs in the women’s game are done in air and are more of a collective team skill than the on-the-ground draw scrums of men’s lacrosse. Because of this, nobody would draw 84 percent like TD Ierlan is doing right now.)

Championship pedigree

Like it or not, the Tewaaraton is not really a regular season award and is given out after the NCAA Tournament, often to the best player on the championship team. Should Matt Rambo and Zoe Stukenberg have won last year over Connor Fields and Ohlmiller? Maybe, maybe not. But the award has had a consistent precedent where it values team success.

Luckily for Ohlmiller and Apuzzo, both players seem poised for some team success this year and perhaps a head-to-head meeting in the Final Four. If they square off against each other, it very well could be their play in that game that determines the winner of the Tewaaraton.

The verdict?

Listen, I’m a Stony Brook student and I’ve covered Kylie for her whole college career. I might not be the most objective voice in this discussion.

One thing is for sure. Both Ohlmiller and Apuzzo are immensely talented and deserving of the Tewaaraton Award, but their real focus is on leading their teams to a first ever lacrosse national championship.