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2013 Rules In Action: Midfielders, Sticks, And Coaching

After watching the USA – Loyola game three times yesterday and again today, and thinking out loud with Kyle Devitte on Twitter, I have come to a couple of realizations about the 2013 Rule Changes and how they should truly impact college lacrosse this year. Some may be super obvious to you, while others may come as a surprise. All this pontification is subject to change, but let’s get this train rolling already.

A “Stable Of Middies”?

It has never hurt a team to have a talented midfield. That’s obvious. My initial reaction to the rule changes was that if you didn’t have a bunch of two-way middies, you were pretty much hosed. However, after seeing Loyola and Team USA play under the new rules, I’m changing my tune a little bit.

Obviously, both of these teams are loaded with guys capable of going both ways, but they both still played offensive and defensive midfielders, and guys were still specializing. What we saw less of was PURE specialization, where a D-mid rarely touches the ball, or where an O-mid never plays any defense. It was a subtle, but noticeable change, and I think the game was better for it.

Judging by what Loyola was able to do, I now believe teams will be able to get away with having a “decent” midfield, as long as it is filled with well-conditioned athletes, AND as long as they have a really strong attack unit, which is capable of creating and scoring. With so few teams loaded with marquee attackmen, this means most programs are still going to be looking for O-mids and D-mids, preferably with some size, who can flat out run. Which brings up the question…

Is it easier to teach an O-mid defense, or a D-mid offense?

Kyle Devitte asked me this on Twitter, and his answer was the O-mid. I went with the better conditioned athlete, which is neither here nor there. I could see either being true, and athletic, well-conditioned O-mids could potentially see the most success overall. Teams were often able to sub on a pole, and usually a D-middie when the other teams subbed, but not always, and more than once it was clear how big of a role conditioning will play this year.

When you consider some of the “little mistakes” that tired players made in this game (and keep in we’re talking about the US team and 2012 national champ), you know it will be an issue for everyone else. Lacrosse had been trending towards shorter bursts of activity in recent years, but with the loss of the sideline horn and quick restarts, the action continues, and this definitely means that middies who can run all day will be at an all-time high. Tired players don’t work in 2013.

The Sticks… The Glorious Sticks!

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing lots of low passes in college lacrosse. You know the type… from the top of the box to the other side of the box… ball arrives just at the next player’s knees… it was brutal. But I didn’t see much of that with Loyola at all. Maybe it’s because they were just playing in Florida, or maybe it’s because they are Loyola, the clear #1. I don’t know. Call me crazy, but I think it might be the sticks.

Don’t believe me? Well, the US guys threw more low passes than Loyola, and they’re the US team. Do they play with Us and Vs? Yes, a lot of them do. Coincidence? Perhaps. Maybe Loyola was just super practiced up and ready to roll? The jury is still out on this part of the debate, but it’s not looking good for the V crowd.

The other change I noticed about the sticks was that the ball does seem to come out just a bit more now. The old “dodge through three guys” thing happened rarely, and when it did, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I thought the US Team had an easier time generating turnovers with stick checks, but maybe that’s just because they’re the US Team. My guess is that, as you may have guessed, the sticks still had something to do with it.

When it comes to shooting, I am surprised to say that I think it actually got better. Again, maybe it’s just Loyola, but that was snipe city for the Hounds. They were really moving the ball well, and just unloading at times. Shooters can shoot. Nothing changes that. But tell me you didn’t think Loyola’s passing was particularly crisp for January. Go ahead… I dare you.

Coaching Premium In 2013

Was college lacrosse becoming “over” coached, with the rampant specialization and subbing of players? I don’t know, but I certainly didn’t love the slow-it-down style some teams were adopting. The new rules definitely create some weird situations for players, and takes the actual game out of the coaches’ hands, at least to a certain extent. No sideline horn and quick restarts alone make this true.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that coaching matters less. In fact, it means coaching matters more.

Thinking of new situations and issues, before they arise, as well as ways to prepare for them, will be the job of every coach this season. The old lacrosse knowledge is still out there, and also requires time, but since college lacrosse is so competitive, these new rules provide an opportunity for brilliant coaches to really shine, and for smart teams to capitalize.

It’s not just about figuring out the new rules. It’s about figuring out how you can gain an advantage from them.

Playing the 20 yard substitution box is one obvious area where some additional gamesmanship will pop up, and because of that, we could also see a change in substitution patterns, and odd man rushes generated by smart subs. That grad assistant bench coach just became a lot more valuable. Dealing with quick restarts is a similar situation. Can a team find ways to do things differently, and more effectively? If so, they will gain a big advantage.

And sometimes it’s just mentality. Last year, the team that ran their D-mids off after a turnover, might be the team that sees a turnover and sprints down the field to create an odd man rush in 2013. That star LSM without great handle, or the O-mid who tires easily, or the FoGo who can’t play D, might be more of a liability now. What will those teams, and players, do in order to change?

One thing is for sure, the team that does things the exact same as they did in 2012 is in for a rude awakening when they play teams that have adapted and improved.

The premium on coaching no longer rests with those who have perfected systems, and can control a game from the sideline. It now rests with the guys who can prep their players for unique situations, and think creatively. Because of this 2013 could see some weird results, and some new teams showing improvement. Add in the fact that lacrosse still looks like lacrosse, and these new rules just look better and better.

Photo Credit: Steve Layne Sr.