'The Machine' of Lehigh Lax

If Conor Gaffney continues to be one of the best faceoff specialists in the country, he might soon become the face of Lehigh lacrosse.

The sophomore started his collegiate career by winning 19 of 22 faceoffs in his first-ever game last season. No Lehigh player had won more in one contest since 2009. He went on to win 61 percent of his faceoffs the rest of the year—eighth best in the nation.

You might say the youngest player on the 2018 Preseason All-Patriot League Team is a faceoff machine. His coach would say you picked the right word.

“The kid is an absolute machine in everything he does,” says Smith Family Head Lacrosse Coach Kevin Cassese. “He’s a machine with his preparation, he’s a machine with the way that he practices. He’s on a very strict routine from his nutrition and hydration to his lifting regimen. He carries that over to all areas of his life.”

Gaffney’s discipline manifests itself in the classroom, where the concept of a “B” is more foreign to him than losing a faceoff. The closest he came to losing his unblemished 4.0 GPA at Lenape High School in Medford, New Jersey, was AP English. He’s much more of a numbers guy—just your typical jock whose favorite classes are calculus and physics.

A three-sport star in high school (he also wrestled and played football), he chose Lehigh for its combination of athletics and academics. During his first three semesters on campus, he’s continued to avoid the “B” bug.

“It’s not necessarily the 4.0 that I’m proud of, I just always like to be the best,” he says. “In school, I’m very competitive, not really with other people but with myself. Same thing with faceoffs. I try to be the best possible me I can be.”

Success in the faceoff circle takes speed, strength, and strategy, all signature Gaffney traits.

“It’s a one-on-one matchup, so you have to understand what your opponent’s doing,” he says. “I try to be as quick as I can to the ball. If the other guy doesn’t win it right away, I like my chances to win if we’re tied up.”

The position takes laser-like focus, which Gaffney has loads of. 

My goal is to win every matchup that I’m in,” he says. “Last year I got beat by Navy’s faceoff guy and Army’s. That’s the worst feeling. If I take care of that goal, then the numbers will take care of themselves.”

Story by Mike Unger