It’s a high-visibility, one-on-one matchup contested after each goal and at the beginning of each quarter. It’s a rough-and-tumble, welt-inducing existence. Sure, it can be high-reward. It can also be high-risk.
It requires a specialized skill set, adroit stick work, and a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Every move has a counter. Every counter has a counter. It’s a fast-paced game of rock-paper-scissors played with heart, intensity, and strength of will. Win the draw, everyone knows because you put your team on the offensive. Lose…well, everyone knows that too.
Taking faceoffs, you can safely say, is not for the meek or pusillanimous.
Warner Cabaniss, a 2021 Collegiate graduate and lacrosse lifer, is the faceoff specialist for the Christopher Newport University men’s lacrosse team, 16-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division III in the latest USILA National Coaches Poll.
A 6-0, 190-pound true freshman, Cabaniss has won 179 of 270 faceoffs. His .663 percentage ranks him 24th nationally in DIII. He’s also collected 104 ground balls and is one of only three players in program history to record more than 100 in a season.
On April 15, US Lacrosse voted him a third-team Mid-Season DIII All-American. The next day, he controlled 18 of 26 faceoffs and picked up eight ground balls in a 17-7 victory over then-No. 1 Salisbury University to earn Coast to Coast Athletic Conference defensive player of the week honors.
After the Captains completed their regular season, Cabaniss shared some thoughts, insights, and reflections about his journey.
What makes the faceoff specialist role so appealing to you?
It’s something you really have to work at. It’s a whole different realm of lacrosse than for people who don’t face off. It’s a particular set of skills that faceoff guys need to have like hand speed, reaction, and strategies of where to exit with the ball. It’s not something you can pick up overnight. You have to keep pushing yourself or you can lose your skills pretty quickly. It’s a cool niche that not a lot of people get into.
What was the biggest difference between high school and college lacrosse.
The speed of the game is definitely something that jumped out to me when we first started fall practice. It was like my feet were in cement. We have a bunch of fifth-year guys who took an extra year of eligibility because of Covid. Coach (Mikey) Thompson (Collegiate ‘06) wanted to see what I was made of, so he put me on them for one-on-ones or two-on-twos. I was thinking, Man, I don’t know if I’m even fit for college lacrosse yet. I sat down and talked with him. He told me, You have to work your tail off. You have to get extra work in. That’s how you’ll more easily adjust to the college speed and the college game. That’s just what I had to do.
How did you put that advice into practice?
Going into the season after fall ball, I definitely picked up some momentum facing off and getting more comfortable. I got humbled in fall ball. That really helped me not to put any pressure on myself and accept that if I win one or if I lose one, it’s on to the next one. It’s that next-up mentality. It’s keeping short-term memory.
Seems like fall ball was a serious wake-up call.
The practices were always competitive. People went at each other trying to make each other better. It’s apparent if you haven’t put the work in. It put me in an extra gear working to get ready for the (spring) season. My first couple of (fall) practices were at 6 a.m., I’d be waking up at 5. I wasn’t complaining about the time. I was dreading going out there and knowing I wasn’t ready. Once fall ball ended, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to ever feel that way again. My parents always said that to be successful, you have to put in the work. At the college level, going up against people four, sometimes five years older than me definitely motivated me. And I knew how special this team was, especially last year making it to the Final Four (and being eliminated in the semifinals by Salisbury). I definitely wanted to contribute and make an impact.
Speak about keeping your personal success in perspective.
With faceoffs, it’s nice knowing it’s nearly impossible to be perfect throughout a game. You’ll never be 100 percent. You can always be better. You can always do extra work to secure that one or two (faceoffs) when it really matters late in the game.
And keeping the team success in perspective.
A bunch of the fifth-year guys were talking about it. Four years ago, they got to the Top 20 (national) rankings, and it was, Wow! This is crazy! This is one of the best feelings I ever had. Now, we’re No. 1. I’m only going to have this season with them, so that motivates me to do as much as I possibly can to prepare myself for the NCAA tournament where we have unfinished business.
CNU has been the chaser. Now, it’s the team to beat. How are you and your teammates handling the expectations?
We’ve never gotten complacent. It goes back to our team saying: WIN. What’s Important Now? Coach Thompson always keeps things in perspective. We celebrate the wins, but the next day in practice we’re just focusing on getting better. Coach Thompson just wants us to be playing our best in May. He’s been saying the entire year.
What makes lacrosse fun for you?
It’s the team aspect. When I came into a new environment and didn’t know many people, the team brought me in. I’ve made some brothers for life. And lacrosse has most definitely helped me go out there for practices where I’m not thinking of school, not thinking about problems. Problems just wash away. It’s really and truly a blessing that I’m playing. I don’t think I’d rather do anything else.
Sounds like you’ve grown quite a bit during your time at CNU.
Without conflict, you’re not going to grow. You’re not going to create change in your life. It’s hard when you’re going through it. When you’re out of it, you’re forever grateful because you’re learning lessons that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. When you overcome hardships, it’s really a great feeling of self-empowerment. You’ve proven to yourself that you can’t be taken down. It’s important for people to embrace their problems. Once you get past them, it’s a great feeling to look back and be grateful.