College NCAA

The World Needs More Takeaway Defensemen

Hopkins vs Princeton  96

Everyone is convinced that the only way to speed up lacrosse is to change the rules, but after watching the Princeton – Hopkins game, and then the Syracuse – Virginia game, I’m not so sure about that.  Maybe all college lacrosse needs is more takeaway defenders, and less slap checky-happy gigantic position defenders!  Could it really be that simple?  Or does it all come down to style of play and coaching?  Knowing the trends in D1 lacrosse, it’s probably the latter!

Hopkins vs Princeton  96

Does this just need more takeaway action?

The two games, and the four teams, I mentioned above represent only a small sampling of college lacrosse, but all four are often brought up in the conversation surrounding run-and-gun lacrosse vs. slow-down possession lacrosse, so when they all play each other on the same weekend, it’s natural for the discussion to occur.  These days, that discussion usually revolves around the need for a shot clock.

People Will Call For A Shot Clock

During the Hopkins – Princeton game, the issue of the shot clock was brought up in the second quarter.  Hop was called for stalling, and they held the ball behind the cage, where they were often covered by short sticks.  Hop was up by a goal or two most of the time, and clearly slowing the game down.  But Princeton CHOSE not to press much, and they allowed their shorties to be isolated behind by choice.  They should not benefit from CHOOSING to pack it in.  With a shot clock in play, they would benefit greatly.

In the Cuse – UVA game on the other hand, the action was back and forth, and very few stall warnings were given out.  Even when they were administered, the stall warnings almost seemed needless, as both teams continued to create chances, carry the ball and make aggressive feeds.  UVA played in a zone, but that didn’t stop them from playing up tempo lacrosse, or from creating takeaways, and it didn’t stop them from scoring a lot of goals, some in transition.  Cuse actively moved their poles out to cover dodgers and was aggressive all game long.

So people will say that we should “force” Hop and Princeton to play a more up-tempo style by installing a shot clock, but I say nonsense. All we need to do is look at the defenders on all the teams, see how they play, what their team approaches are, and we will see where the differences lie, and how teams with takeaway players can force other teams to play a faster pace.  We don’t need a shot clock.  All we need are more takeaway artists, and for coaches to let them loose.

At first, this might seem crazy.  But if you look at it in the right way, it all becomes very clear.

Can You Go Aggressive On Great Ball Handlers?

Out of Syracuse, Virginia, Princeton and Hopkins, who has the “best” ball handlers, and guys who can carry the rock?  I’d say the honors go to UVA and Cuse hands down.  Hopkins was up there when they had Boland and Stanwick, but both of those guys were out against Princeton.  The Tigers have Frocarro and Schreiber, but I like UVA and Cuse’s overall impact better.

So if those two teams have the best ball carriers, why did the ball seem to be on the ground so much more in the Cuse – UVA game?  Now the stats say there were 14 caused turnovers in the Hop -Princeton game, and only 11 in the SU – UVA game, but those stats can’t be right.  SU had 3 Caused Turnovers?  I don’t think so.  Also, Cuse defenders extended to cover UVA players often, and at least 4 or 5 times errant passes were thrown out of bounds by the Cavs because of the pressure.  I say all this because I know someone will draw up that stat as counterargument.  But stats don’t always tell the whole story.  I’m basing this off of watching each game twice.

There were more turnovers for good transition play because both the UVA and Cuse defenses play more aggressive, takeaway style lacrosse.  They created those turnovers actively, even though they were covering some of the most talented possession guys in the game.  It wasn’t by chance or accident, it is simply their style of play.  They balance position work with takeaways, and are prepared for what happens when an attempt goes awry, at least most times.

Hopkins and Princeton, on the other hand, seem more content to sit back and let their poles physically intimidate the opposition.  It’s not worse, it’s just different.  It limits the amounts of slides needed, and doesn’t give up “easy” goals earned by beating an aggressive defender.  It’s about position and limiting mistakes.  Like the Cuse – UVA style, it’s also heavily team work oriented.  The goals are just a little bit different.  When a Hop defenseman overextends, he gets reamed.  At Cuse, they expect it.  It’s just a different mentality.  Princeton should certainly be given credit for the doubles they “create”, but I just didn’t think there were enough of those to truly call them aggressive.

The slow-down, team D approach was featured prominently by Princeton when Hop stalled with ball behind the cage. Princeton was down, but still stayed in tight and didn’t extend.  They allowed time to tick off the clock, but minimized mistakes, generated goals of their own, and eventually got back into the game.  The position approach was also evident on Hop’s defensive end when Princeton made their run at the end of the game.  Princeton really pushed the cage hard, but Hop’s D had a hard time answering, meaning Princeton controlled the tempo.  Hop wasn’t used to pressing out and putting the Tigers on their heels, so when the Tigers finally stepped it up, Hop crumpled in a bit instead of dictating pace, and being even more aggressive.

But this is what makes lacrosse beautiful!!!!  There are so many different approaches to the game, and to see them all match up makes for an interesting season.  Hop likes to slow it down, isolate, draw and dump and then on D they play team position D.  Princeton plays a similar style of conservative D, but runs a more two-man heavy offense.  Cuse presses on D and presses on O.  UVA has an aggressive zone on D and pushes on O.  Each team treats transition differently (Cuse looks at a 3 on 4 as an opportunity. Hop will call a TO on a 6 on 4 rush.), and each team wins games.

Yes, you have to watch Hop’s slow down brand of lacrosse a lot, especially early, as they have so many games broadcast, but it’s still great lacrosse, and exciting to see.  Just remember, only a few years ago we were lucky to have 5 or 6 games on TV all year.  I’ll take a lot of Hop and just hope more teams are added on in the future!

Now back to the subject at hand!

Why Teams NEED Takeaway Players To Win

It is my personal belief that a team benefits from having players that can go out and take the ball away from an attackman.  Later in the season, as defenses gel, having those guys who can go out and dictate to the offense is invaluable.  Packing it in works early, and it works often, but towards the end, it’s not always enough.  And unless you have an offense to beat all offenses, you’re going to need a better than average defense.

I really like Hopkins to keep winning during the regular season, at least for the most part.  They know what they are doing, run their schemes well, and always seem to be aware of the situation, and what they want to accomplish.  I think they have some amazingly talented poles on defense, and that Chris Lightner and Tucker Durkin are some of the best in the business.  But I just want to see them do more.  I want Durkin to throw a couple less hard slap checks to the forearm and more real takeaway efforts.  I’d like to see Lightner go to town a bit more… he clearly has it in him.

I want to see this stuff because it makes for great lacrosse.  But I also want to see it because I think it makes Hopkins better and even more dynamic.  It makes them harder to prepare for, and even easier to cheer for!  As the season moves on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hop let these guys off the leash a bit more, but the fact is, they really just have to.  A balance is always required on defense, because being one-sided means you are predictable.  Cuse and UVA seem to be playing this way from the get-go.  I wonder when JHU will kick it in effect?

We could never legislate some rule to FORCE teams to play a takeaway style of defense.  But if teams keep slowing it down and trying to control the ball, we’ll need a fix.  One option is the shot clock.  And the other is to let the defenders go to work in getting the ball back.  It is simply a different approach, a more active approach.  And it lets the better team dictate the pace of play.  Controlling the game and limiting mistakes is effective during the regular season, but in the playoffs teams may need to score early and often, and THEN attack the opposition on defense.

The teams they’ll be facing will just be too good not do so.

About the author

Profile photo of Connor Wilson

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

10 Comments

  • I agree 100%. The defense needs to be extending more. When the offense is content to sit back and kill clock and the defense sits back because they don’t want to over extend who is at fault? In my opinion it’s the D. The D should be dictating what the offense can do not the other way. Last year in the ncaa’s when ‘Cuse lost to UMD everyone was yelling shot clock. I was yelling play the ball! On the field are John Lade, Joel White, Brian Megill, Tim Harder, Thomas Guadagnolo, Kevin Drew, and John Galloway and you sit back and wait for them? Watch Stevenson or Salisbury play D. They will pressure you all over the field. I am firmly planted in the no shot clock side of that discussion because I think a different approach to D can fix the problem of stalling.

  • i agree, the D needs to attack the ball more and do less sitting back allowing the O to waste time and move the ball at whatever speed they want. the D should be controlling the speed of the game most of the time.

  • Just to play devil’s advocate…

    Teams stall when they have a lead, but not a dominate one.  They want to keep the ball and burn as much
    clock as possible instead of scoring goals. 
    If you are the losing coach, you have to decide the best thing you can
    do to give your team a chance to win. 

    Option A, which most people here suggest, go aggressively
    after the ball carrier to try to create a turnover.  If this works, you get the ball back and preserve
    the clock. 

    Option B, which a lot of coaches do, be patient and sacrifice
    clock while not giving up a goal.  If
    this works, which it will because the winning team isn’t trying to score on
    you, you eventually get the ball back, but with a lot less time on the
    clock. 

    I think what really drives the decision is how likely Option
    A is going to work.  First, your take
    away defender needs to get the ball on the ground; which is hard enough under
    normal circumstances, but much more difficult in a stall situation.  The ball carrier isn’t trying to pass or shoot;
    he just wants to keep the ball.  The “chance”
    the defender has to take is giving up body position to get to the ball.  If that works, the ball is on the ground, if
    it doesn’t, it’s going to lead to an unsettled situation. 

    If it did work and the ball is on the ground, now it’s a fight
    to get the ground ball, which could lead to an unsettled situation.  It’s important to point out that in the last
    two minutes of a game when teams finally do try to aggressively take the ball
    away, you’ll see players hold back on time and room shots or even empty nets to
    burn up clock.  In that same situation
    with 4 or 5 minutes to go, it makes more sense to take that shot. 

    With Option A, a lot has to go your way, and if it doesn’t,
    you are more likely to give up an easy goal and dig the whole you are in
    deeper. 

    Option B, while boring for players and fans alike, gives you
    the best chance.  If a coach has to
    choose between winning or entertaining fans, he will take winning every
    time.       

  • I agree as a coach and a former college close defender with Connor. 

    I was a position defender in college and still am a “position” defender when I play in tournaments/summer league.  That is my “strength”.  I teach my guys to play good defense, be in good position regarding body, feet and stick.

    However,  I want my defenders on my own high school team to always think about where they are on the field but also take chances and attack the ball carrier.  Take the ball away or force the offense to do something other than eat the clock.  We will double-team, slide adjacent or attack 1 v 1, at any time, including when we are man down to force passes and rushing passes and maybe make a bad one so we get a turnover and start running, push and going up tempo.  We look for opportunities to take the ball away!!!

    I am steadfastly opposed to the shot clock.  I dont need the rule makers to put in more rules, I need to adjust strategy and develop better defenders.  Running to the rule makers to change the game is like running to the governement to pass a law to solve a problem that does not exist!

    Coaches, teach your defenders (d mids, LSMs and close defenders) to take the ball away when u need to!  Adjust your strategy not the rules

  • I don’t have the time to write a long response, but my main point would be that the 2010 stick changes didn’t do much and it can still be incredibly difficult to dislodge a ball from a skill ballhandler, even if you land a very good check on their stick. If you knew the ball was going to come out all/most of the time, it would validate the decision to gamble more often, but as it is you simply cannot be sure you are going to force a turnover which hurts the reward part of the risk/reward equation that goes into playing a true takeaway style.

  • agreed.  it is still difficult against a skilled ball carrier, but not against everyone.  My point is that if Hop is going to stall behind, it’s a team’s CHOICE to not play them back there hard.  Hop doesn’t have great ball handlers with the injuries to Stanwick and Boland and yet teams still play off them when they slow it down.  That’s a choice.

    I was a position guy in college more than a takeaway guy, but I was still aggressive, and didn’t sit back even though we ran a zone.  When teams run a passive, conservative Defense and lose 6-5, it’s no one’s fault but theirs.

  • And my point is that the stick rules continue to reward average ballhandlers by allowing very pinched heads to keep the ball in the stick, even on a good check.

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