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Brandon Mollett is an Inside Lacrosse Correspondent

If you want to know what the invert offense should look like, find yourself a tape of last year's quarterfinal game between Princeton and Loyola. Loyola controlled the ball and the clock with a disciplined invert offense that patiently waited for a good scoring chance. The Greyhounds manipulated the tempo of the game with long possessions and limited turnovers.

"He [Dave Cottle] told me after the game, 'We tried to out Princeton, Princeton.'" Tiger head coach Bill Tierney says.

The fastest game on two feet was as fast as Loyola wanted it to be. They accomplished this primarily through the invert offense set.

This game was a glaring example of the advantages, disadvantages, and issues surrounding the invert offense. Loyola lost but played itself into a position to win against a team with more talent and a lot more depth. The Hounds used this same offensive game plan to upset Syracuse earlier in the regular season.

In any case it brought the invert offense to the forefront of the Inside Lacrosse staff's mind. The quarterfinal game alone raised more than enough attention to warrant a full discussion on the topic of invert offenses.

The basics In the invert offense a team moves the players matched up with shortstick defenders behind the goal. Usually this will be a midfielder. This is where the term invert is derived. The middies who normally play above the goal are now inverted and play from behind the goal.

The advantages are obvious. The offensive team initially has a more favorable matchup because the offensive player is driving on a shortstick defender as opposed to a defenseman. When dodging from behind the goal, all the other offensive players are facing the goal. This means they are all in a position to score directly from a feed. The defensive players will have their backs to the ball. (see diagram) Despite the fact that defenses now work ad nauseam to train shortsticks to play defense from behind the goal they will always be less effective than longsticks. Without the six feet of titanium for leverage and reach, they cannot possibly put as much pressure on the offensive player as a longstick can.

This lack of pressure enables the offensive player to keep his hands more free, making him a far more dangerous player as both a feeder and scorer. A longstick defender, because of that six-foot reach, is always a threat to land a check that may dislodge the ball. A shorter stick minimizes this threat, giving the offensive player more time and room.

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The longer stick also allows more room for error, particularly when holding a player on the goal line extended. Logically it makes sense that it is harder to drive through or roll around a player with a six-foot reach as opposed to a 40-inch. Holding a strong offensive player on the pipes is a difficult task even for the most skilled defensive shortsticks.

"The invert doesn't work unless you can beat the shortstick off the drive," Cottle says. "When he beats his man it opens up the field."

With the defensive player more vulnerable the slides must come more quickly which can open up offense away from the ball.

The most important aspect of the invert is the fact that it develops from behind the goal. An offensive player in front of the goal has all the aforementioned advantages over the shortstick defender. But when driving from up top his options are limited. There are two reasons for this.

One, it is easier for the defensive players to see their man and the ball when looking out away from the goal toward the ball. This makes the slides easier. Two, and more importantly, a player driving from up top is passing to a player with his back to the goal. A player facing away from the goal is not an immediate threat to shoot. He is forced to move before being able to shoot.

It is far more effective to drive from behind and distribute from there. Defensively it is harder to keep track of the ball when it is coming from directly behind. Offensively all of the off-ball players are facing the goal and can shoot immediately after receiving the pass from behind. (see diagram)


The nitty gritty offense

What this has created for the offense is an interesting new type of player. In this offense a midfielder's role has expanded. He is forced to become more like an attackman in mindset. Driving to score with an eye open to feed.

"Eighty percent of the Division I game of lacrosse is finding the shortstick and beating him," says Princeton head coach Bill Tierney. "Teams are well prepared and slide early to the shortstick. This means the player whois dodging isn't necessarily going to be the guy who scores. Which means middies have to become distributors as well as scorers."

Says Cottle: "You have to teach attack skills to midfielders."

Most teams have handled this in a fairly logical way, convert former attackmen into midfielders. Sticking guys behind who are used to playing from behind makes sense.

"A couple of years ago we started recruiting offensive players and defensive players, not just attackmen and middies," Tierney says. "We want to put the best offensive players on the field when on offense."

This is a simple strategy that requires a lot from players because they are forced to adapt to positions they are not naturally used to playing. In any case, in the invert offense a team must have a player who is comfortable working from behind the goal.

The field looks a lot different from behind the goal. The slides come from a different area. The driving player tends to be much closer to the crease, which increases the amount of traffic and confusion. It takes a heady player to manage the ball in this situation.

The good news is that in this confusion there are a lot of options because teams slide quickly. This opens up the field behind the slide. Now the offense has the defense on the move and all of their players in a position for a shot. Advantage offense.


The defensive nitty gritty

The defense is not as defenseless as it would appear. It has a few distinct advantages in the invert. Defensemen are sliding quickly which makes them aggressive and makes the offense beat them by moving the ball rather than sitting back and letting one man beat them. Offenses will make mistakes when pressured and forced to move the ball more quickly than they would like. Sound farfetched? Well it works. Just ask Princeton. The Tigers have won six National Championships playing their slide, rotate, recover style of defense.

The defense also has the advantage of opting not to play shortsticks behind. Ever hear of a zone? They just let the shortsticks play up top and the longsticks play behind. This means that a middie or converted attackman no longer has the benefit of driving against a shortstick. This negates the effects of the invert. However, the disadvantage is that a more skilled player like an attackman is now matched up with a shortstick up top.


Affecting the game

Watching that Loyola-Princeton game was like watching snails race over a salt block. Loyola played a slow methodical game, inverting and waiting, waiting then inverting.

To most this was a boring game that saw the refs call stalling more than they called goals. It was especially sluggish after the up-and-down track meet Hofstra and Syracuse displayed in the previous game. The invert has slowed the game down. Coaches manipulate personnel forcing favorable situations. This means coaches must substitute a great deal more, moving offensive players in to score and exchanging them out to prevent the other team from scoring.

The invert also greatly affects the fast break. Teams are left with a two-headed hydra on fast breaks. Offensively your middies are the ones trapped behind the play. So in order to get into the hole they have to run past their own attackmen. Either a team can make its attackmen play defense or yield the fast break. On the other hand, the defense has its offensive players behind as well because the shortsticks are playing defense. This means they must generate their fast breaks through longsticks out front.

But in any case the game is slowed as teams substitute, even the field by getting defensemen back and shift into a new offensive set.

Invert sticking around

Like it or not, the invert is here to stay. It creates far too many good opportunities offensively for it to fade away.

It may put a lot in the hands of coaches as they move personnel in and out, but it still comes down to one player making a play.

It comes down to one thing. The invert works.




January 26, 2002