On October 9th, I participated in my first Masters Event ever. I had heard all kinds of crazy stories and rumors about what Masters lax was all about, and even though I had seen my fair share of Masters games being played at summer tourneys, getting out on the field with these guys still proved to be an eye-opening experience. I love lax in all its forms, but I now have a much better appreciation for the Masters game! Let’s try to explain some differences…
From what I can tell, most Masters games, tourneys and leagues are 35+. I know that Vail has lowered their age requirements for Masters to 31 or 32 and I think that Placid has done something similar. And this definitely changes things a little bit. The fact is more guys are still in shape and playing at 31 or 32 than they are at 35 or 36. I’m not saying 35 or 36 year olds can’t be the best players on the field, because oftentimes they are, I’m just saying that relatively young guys like me (31 years young!) definitely have an advantage as the age limits drop.
Most of the guys at my first Masters were definitely 35+. There was one guy playing attack (and still scoring) in his mid-60s, and one team had a 55 year old middie who tore it up all day. The guys on my team ranged from their low 30s to the low 50s, and age had almost nothing to do with who was really good. Guys who could play, could play. And this was the first of many misconceptions to be proved false. Young guys (30-35) aren’t necessarily better than older guys. And they’re not always in better shape either. Newer isn’t always better.
This was as true of the men playing the game as it was of the equipment. Wearing a late model helmet, using a modern pinched stick and having the newest pads didn’t mean a thing when it came to success on the field. In fact, until a game was underway, it was actually really tough to tell who on the other team was going to be really good. Some guys looked great but ended up being awful, while some of the best players looked like they had just been outfitted at Play-It-Again Sports. So newer is not always better, and judging a book by its cover is definitely folly. Two lessons learned.
Another rumor that I had long heard, and always assumed to be true, was that Masters ball was really pass heavy. Unlike the current college and elite scene, where dodging is key, the masters game was supposed to be assist-city, and as a player who loves to be involved in a good crease stack, I was really excited for this. I will say that there was more passing than what I was used to. I definitely saw more assists over the course of the day, but I also saw a lot of dodging to shoot. I’d say the difference was probably on the magnitude of 10-25% more assisted goals if I had to offer a guess. But it’s not as big of an increase as I thought it would be.
That being said, when we played against a team of talented guys who had played together a bit, it showed. These guys could all play really well still, but they also played as a team. When they were on offense, the picks, give-and-go passes and no look assists to the crease were really fun to watch. Everyone knew where they were going, and any time our defense made a mistake, or was caught ball-watching for even a moment, they found a way to generate a quality scoring chance. Probably 75% of their offensive work was done via passing and cutting. It was actually awesome to watch. Of course guys like Randy Fraser and Ryan Bendig were on this team (at least I think it was them), so one would expect the level of play to be extremely high.
The first two lessons I learned (younger not always better & don’t judge a book by its cover) proved mostly true, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a bit of a step down in a couple of places. One big notch down the list is that, in general, the guys obviously just aren’t as fast or as well-conditioned. There are guys who can still fly, and some guys can run forever, but for the most part, time is slowly taking its toll on everyone’s athleticism. And because of this, the distribution of athleticism is huge. Much bigger than it is in college. I once again found that I was one of the faster guys on the fiel, and that I could run by a lot of people, but that alone didn’t make me successful.
Why didn’t it make me immediately successful? Because guys who regularly play Masters must be used to it! They are accustomed to having a couple guys on the field who are just plain faster than everyone else, and they know how to defend it. Teams play great help defense when they need to, goalies bark out shooters and match-up problems like crazy and when a lot of these teams play, it almost looks like they’re playing a zone. That’s just how good their communication and team defense is. On the elite level, I was never the kind of player who could dodge through 3-4 guys, and I couldn’t do it in Masters either. Fast players who were great dodgers will still be able to do it in Masters, but I do think it will get a little harder for them. Defense in masters ball was just much more team oriented. That probably accounts for my perceived increase in assisted goals.
Another step down, that also serves as a myth is that Masters lacrosse is somehow less physical than Elite lacrosse. When you look at the two head to head, Elite is definitely more physical, but those are young guys, and they recover quickly. For us old guys, it takes a bit longer to fully recuperate. I still have a huge bruise on my shoulder from the tourney and 12 days have passed. What’s up with that?!?! So this tourney made bodychecks illegal, if they had the intention of knocking someone over. Of course I still got laid out twice in the tourney. Both times by my own teammates. So you can make bodychecks illegal all you want, but they still happen. And they hurt old men more. Trust me. I also got hit with two shots, again by my own teammates. So it’s a step down, but it’s also not. Does that make sense?
My first masters was great for a couple of reasons. I got to meet a ton of new people, I got to play lacrosse in a new place with a new team, and I learned a lot about a new way to play the game: Masters style. It’s only slightly different from Elite lacrosse on the actual field, but I think the fact that the guys who are still at it at that age HAVE to be in it for the right reasons, makes the biggest difference in the overall scene. I didn’t see one bad attitude all day long. I never saw anybody get heated, take things too far, or lose perspective. Everyone was out there to compete, have fun, and celebrate the fact that they could still get out on the field, even with life going on in the background. It wasn’t some mushy love-fest, and it wasn’t guys getting overly emotional or competitive about club ball. It was the perfect balance, and I can’t wait to do it again.
I’m 100% sold on Master Lacrosse.