Dec 4, 2018

27703920327_6f37fa7144_k.jpg(December 4, 2018)… The Rochester Knighthawks announced today that they have re-signed 2018 Rookie of the Year Jake Withers. The 24-year-old defenseman agreed to terms with Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres after a dominating first season in the National Lacrosse League.

“Curt’s a great owner, and it’s a great organization with a lot of history,” said Withers. “It’s great to be able to sign a two-year deal. It’s going to be awesome to celebrate our 25 years in Rochester.

“I am focused on bringing a championship to Rochester. We came up short last year, so I know the fans and the community are really hungry. I am excited to be a part of that process.”

During the 2017-18 campaign, Withers played in all 18 regular season games and posted seven goals, five assists, and 148 loose balls. Withers led the league in faceoff wins (279) and faceoff winning percentage (.670) to become the first rookie in league history to have the best faceoff percentage (minimum of 200 faceoffs won) since Geoff Snider in 2007. For his efforts, he became just the second Knighthawk to win the award, joining John Grant Jr. (2000).

“Jake played a big role in our success last season, as a rookie,” said Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres. “He controlled draws and got us valuable possessions. Not to be overlooked was his solid play on the defensive side of the ball.”

Withers was honored as the Knighthawks’ 2018 Rookie of the Year, after rewriting the team and league record book. The Peterborough, Ontario, native not only set the single-season team mark for faceoff wins (279), but also smashed Stephen Peyser’s league rookie record of 239. 

Withers continued his impressive play during the Knighthawks’ run to the 2018 NLL Finals. In his postseason debut, he won 15 faceoffs and chipped in two assists in a win over New England in the East Division Semifinals. In Game Three of the NLL Finals, he collected a team and NLL Finals record 20 loose balls and won 23 of 29 faceoffs. He finished the postseason with team playoff records for loose balls (56) and faceoff wins (88).

Reaching the Finals in his first season was an incredible accomplishment. It has him more motivated to get back to the NLL’s biggest stage.

“Everyone’s goal is to win a championship, but especially after getting so close last year,” said Withers. “To get a couple of goals away, it burns a hole in your stomach during the offseason. It makes you do that extra sprint or that extra rep.”

It was Withers’ play at the Senior “A” and collegiate levels that convinced the Rochester brass to take the highly-touted defenseman. His list of accolades was extensive at Ohio State University (OSU), especially after helping the Buckeyes reach the 2017 NCAA Division I Finals. That season, he ranked fourth in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten in faceoff winning percentage (.647) and was seventh nationally with 7.6 ground balls per game. The OSU team captain was named a Second Team All-American as a faceoff specialist and earned Big Ten Specialist of the Year in back-to-back seasons (2016-17). 

“The reason we picked Jake was not only because of his faceoff abilities,” said Knighthawks VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage. “It was more so because of his all-around play. He is a great defender and great in transition. His compete level is amazing. All the things we talked about at the draft table, he ended up achieving those goals. He was a big part of our success defensively and offensively, by getting us more possessions.”

After the completion of the 2018 NLL season, Withers won a championship with the Peterborough Lakers. He hoisted the Mann Cup for the second straight season, playing under Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. It was Hasen who had a significant influence in Rochester selecting Withers with the second overall pick 2017 NLL Entry Draft. 

“His overall game is really good,” he said. “He is a smart player, and his IQ is off the charts. He plays a chippy, hard defensive game, which fits well into our system. He is also a great team guy."

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