By Michael Spinner
While I usually stick to commentary on the men's game and my chosen profession is as a women's lacrosse coach, I felt it appropriate to herald a rule change in the women's game that will have significant and positive ramifications in the 2003 season and beyond. Even as a staunch supporter of women's lacrosse as a wonderfully exciting game, there has been one facet of the sport that has driven me crazy for years now, and we can finally say farewell to…the stall. More specifically, the act of a women's lacrosse goalie gaining possession of the ball, holding it for seven or eight seconds (the women's crease rule is 10 seconds, not four), leaving the crease, rolling it back in, and gaining ten more seconds. I've seen goalies kill three, four, and five minutes of time on the clock utilizing this tactic.
A large frame is no longer required to play in the goal
For 2003, the goalie stall will be eliminated from play in women's lacrosse, at least at the college level. After being utilized as an experimental rule last Fall, it is now in effect for the Spring…and rightfully so. It just makes sense.
I love the sport, but the goalie stall has been for some time now the goofiest, least necessary, and most ridiculous strategy I have ever witnessed in a lacrosse game, men's or women's. At its highest level, women's lacrosse is as exciting as any sport you get. But imagine the closest of games at the highest level with Team A leading by a goal with two minutes left. Team A's goalie makes a dramatic save-Team B never sees the ball again because the Team A goalie stands in back of the goal, hops out and immediately rolls the ball back into the crease and gains possession. Game over. It's happened before. Luckily, we probably won't see it again.
Is there a worse way to end a game? Some suggest that a self-respecting coach would never ask their goalie to end a game in such a cowardly manner and would opt to let the outcome be decided on the field. Others might suggest that as long as the tactic was within the rules, one had to consider its use in certain situations. As a women's lacrosse coach, I never have never consider allowing a goalie of mine to execute such a strategy as a stall for more than a minute or longer. The stall has happened too many times in too many crucial situations. It was embarrassing and had to go.
Smaller, more agile goalies are already at top programs
It is possible that, without even realizing it, the women's lacrosse rules committee has instituted a change that will also add the newest and most exciting element of play in the sport since the restraining lines were added a few years ago. This is no small change. Women's lacrosse just got better in a lot of ways that go far beyond the positive late-game affects of the change. Let's explore the possibilities:
The face of transition lacrosse in the women's game just improved ten-fold. Teams that traditionally slow the game down to a crawl will now have to act faster or lose possession of the ball. As we see in men's lacrosse, when a goalie gains possession now, the first look will have to be up-field and inevitably we'll see much better and faster transition play. Even if it means a goalie simply dumps the ball to a low defender, at least the ball will be moving now. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen teams institute a ride where they lock off every member of the clearing team but the goalie and the goalie sits there and plays stall-ball with the crease until somebody pops open. Now, the clearing team has to act faster and the game speeds up.
- More importantly, goalie play will improve dramatically in women's lacrosse. Even at the highest level of Division I women's lacrosse, the play of goalies and emphasis on development of goalies has not been nearly as strong as it should be and there are a lot of teams at that level who are struggling to find top notch goalie talent. Much of this has to do with the fact that at the younger levels of girl's lacrosse, many areas employ what I call the "Darth Vader" goalie strategy, where the largest and often least athletic person is placed between the pipes with the hopes that the larger body will make more stops. Under the old rule, this was somewhat advantageous because a larger immobile goalie did not have to leave the crease much and nothing in the rules allowed the opposition to exploit this. Under the new rule, complete goalie play becomes paramount because if a team has a slower goalie who does not handle the ball well, they are placed in a very tough situation after a save.
- Opportunity abounds. Under the new rules, goalies will have to handle the ball and even run with it against the more proficient rides. That means better athletes between the pipes. Better athletes mean better all-around goalies and the escalating need for better and better keepers. Who will be these next generation goalies? If you are a high school second string offensive or defensive player but a top athlete, hop in the cage! That next scholarship could be yours! Look what has happened to goalie play in the men's game. How many men's or boy's teams still have the huge goalie who just takes up lots of space? Goalies today are smaller, quicker, and more athletic. Goalies like Greg Cattrano and Brian Carcaterra are the new standard giving their teams a major advantage by being able to run with the ball and ignite transition. At every level, the best men's teams have goalies who handle the ball as well as most field players. This has not been the standard in women's lacrosse. But, expect a major change now.
Will the new standard be athleticism at the goalie position?
- It makes teams better and forces coaches to do a lot more preparation. Programs who don't utilize a philosophy of having their best athlete between the pipes do so at the risk of losing. There are a lot of college programs who don't even have a goalie coach. Expect that to change too.
- Last but not least, it's great for the fans. While women's lacrosse is a much faster and more exciting sport that many cynics say, this adds a new and exciting speed element that should make viewing women's lacrosse even more fun. Also, as women's lacrosse gains more popularity, rules changes such as this one allow the game to be more easily understood by newcomers, and even men.
My take on the rule change for guys watching women's lacrosse:
I've been around both sports enough to view, learn, and appreciate that there are many differences between men's and women's lacrosse but that both sports are so similar in the speed, level of skill, and athleticism to make one successful at each that they each should be appreciated equally. Women's lacrosse should be far more respected than it is by many of the more cynical men's lacrosse fans. But, with the rule change this season, perhaps the die-hard guys will be more accommodated and be able to follow things on the field a bit more easily. With a possible hard-boundary being experimented with this fall and probably being added in '04, the days of those who disapprove of women's lacrosse because they "don't understand it" should hopefully be coming to an end.
Photos by T.D. Paulius and John Strohsacker
October 9, 2002
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