Scott Firman adjusts from long stick middie to close defense in senior year
Riley Bunch | Staff Photographer
Preparing for his senior season, Scott Firman knew a potential position change could happen. The lone returning starter from the defense, Nick Mellen, had just undergone surgery and his status for fall ball remained unclear.
Firman, who’s been a long stick midfielder for the past three years, started dabbling with a possible switch to close defense during the summer.
When fall came around, Mellen was not ready. Given the inexperience on the backline, Syracuse assistant coach Lelan Rogers wanted to move a veteran player to play defense to patch up the hole. Firman’s skills as a long stick midfielder and previous experience playing close defense in high school made him the best candidate for the job.
“If you can play both, it’s really going to get you on the field a lot quicker,” Rogers said. “Scott’s a kid who can play both up top and down low.”
Firman has been an anchor for No. 6 Syracuse (1-0) on the defensive side of the field since his freshman year in 2014. The senior had spent three years as the long stick midfielder, a position he has been most comfortable playing. But with two close defensemen now graduated and Mellen out with injury, Firman will play close defense for SU this season.
It started with 1-on-1 and 6-on-6 drills in practice. In the former, Firman would work on technique. Each day, Rogers had a new tip or a note for Firman to improve on — whether it be spacing or proper footwork. During the latter, he would be able to see the full field and improve communication down low.
The transition came with a degree of difficulty. The main difference was learning to deal with attackmen who’d run behind the net, something Firman wasn’t used to when guarding midfielders.
When Firman played close defense in high school, it was because he was one of the best athletes on the team. Now, he needed to learn the fundamentals.
“(At Syracuse) it’s more of a ‘We’re going to put you down here,’” Firman said, “’but you’ve got to learn everything in terms of technique and team defense.’”
Jamie Archer, Firman’s high school coach, says speed and pushing transition are intangibles crucial to being a long stick midfielder. And to Archer, Firman had that.
But at close defense, Firman has to get to the goal line and turn his hips to keep the opposition behind. The angle is completely different and there is more lateral movement. Up top as a long stick midfielder, it’s more turning his hips and sprinting, staying with the midfielder. Close defense also leaves room to recover from a quick slip up.
“Behind goal if they beat you initially,” Archer said, “you can recover a little more because they’re behind the goal most of the time.”
In Syracuse’s season opener against Siena on Saturday, Firman made his first career start. He had played regularly for three years prior, appearing in 46 games. He picked up four ground balls in SU’s 19-6 win. In only one game, he already has 12 percent of his total ground ball total in 17 games last year.
There was some miscommunication in the first game, including a three-goal first quarter. The defense then buckled down, allowing only three goals in as many quarters the rest of the way.
“The great ones, of which Scotty is, can adjust quickly,” Rogers said.
When Mellen returns to action, Firman may play both long stick and pole, depending on the opposition. With quicker and faster attackmen, Firman will likely stay down low. But with quick midfielders, Firman will move back up to his natural position.
Despite the position change, Firman has been a steady constant from preseason to now. He will likely match up on the team’s No. 1 attacker since the other two starters, Tyson Bomberry and Marcus Cunningham, have made a combined 16 appearances in college.
“Switching positions from long stick middie done to close and back and forth like that,” senior attack and high school teammate Jordan Evans said, “that’s one of the hardest things you can do.”
Published on February 13, 2017 at 10:01 pm