Lehigh’s Dominant Defense

Lehigh Lacrosse defense practice
Lehigh going to work in practice

The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team just might have the best defense in the country right now, and the Mountain Hawks defensive prowess has definitely contributed in a major way to their overall success. Right now, the Lehigh squad is rolling and looking to make 2012 their year.  Let’s take a closer look at what they’re doing right on the defensive side of the ball!

Lehigh runs a complicated defense, with a number of different schemes.  It obviously takes time to learn the D, and feel comfortable, but it’s not ALL about experience, as Lehigh starts a freshman in goal named Matt Poillon, and their best defender is probably Ty Souders, who is only a sophomore.

So, how has Lehigh gone from giving away close games to winning them? It all stems from a more cohesive team approach this year, especially on the defensive end. 

Lehigh Lacrosse defense practice
Lehigh going to work in practice

In the past, Lehigh allowed defenders to be put on an island, and relied too heavily on solid one-on-one defending. I recently laid out three things that anyone can do to become a dominant defender, and in years past, many Lehigh players really only hit two of the three aspects of the game.

The team had players with good footwork, and good stick skills, but the third part of the equation, a high lacrosse IQ, was still lacking to a certain degree. Lacking so much that the Mountain Hawks were losing games they felt they should be winning.

To bump that Lacrosse IQ up, the coaches switched things around a bit on defense, and now they are much more “slide and recover” heavy.  Check out the video below for a firsthand run down of what the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team has going on…

The Lehigh defense is no longer waiting for a player to get beat and then reacting.  Instead, the defense is sliding with purpose, before a teammate is cleanly beat, and their schemes prepare them for this.  The defensive player that was “beat” quickly recovers inside, and by the time most teams have cycled the ball to the backside, the whole unit has recovered, and they are ready to stop the next offensive advance.

This switch in defensive approach relies heavily on a high team lacrosse IQ, and it is clearly something that has taken time to build and learn.  It seems a though Lehigh laid the foundation in the fall, and made sure that it was strong.  From there, new layers of slides have been added, and tweaks and adjustments have been made.  The players have fully bought in, the Lehigh defensive unit is now a single cohesive unit. This unit is winning games for its team.

I went through a very similar defensive transformation when I played at Wesleyan, and it was the linchpin to our success.  Like Lehigh, we weren’t blessed with 5 or 6 poles who were all beasts – who could take the ball from anyone. We had talented guys who were willing to play team lacrosse to win games.  We were willing to swallow our individual pride, and do the dirty work.  From watching Lehigh play, you can tell they are in that same boat now as well.

At Wesleyan, we switched from man-to-man defense to an aggressive, doubling zone defense, which at times closely resembles the schemes that Lehigh runs now.  People often disregard defensive players in a zone defense, or in Lehigh’s case, a slide and recover defense, because no ONE person really stands out.

However, if Lehigh is leading the nation in goals given up per game, they must be doing something VERY right.  If that thing is relying on a well-orchestrated “no name” defense, then I think Head Coach Kevin Cassesse and the Mountain Hawks will be just fine.

So what kind of defense would YOU rather have?  

Seven guys on D (including a goalie!) who are all studs but play as individuals?  Or seven guys who play team ball and rely on each other to win games?  From personal experience, I’ll take the latter.