Dabrowski's Unorthodox Play Intimidates Ohio State's Rivals
For the past two years, Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos has been touting Cian Dabrowski as one of the most exciting players in the country to watch.
The senior attacker from Ontario brings her own unique style to the game with her feeding and finishing abilities, and now, has emerged as a go-to player for the No. 20 Buckeyes. Venechanos said she makes the team more difficult to defend.
Dabrowski, who started seven games last year in a crowded lineup, leads OSU (4-1) with 15 goals and seven assists, including two goals and one assist in Saturday's 8-7 win over Johns Hopkins. Ohio State, which suffered its only loss at Stanford, was counting on Dabrowski to carry more of a load this season, as one of three returning players who saw significant playing time last year.
"She has her own canny ability to be a finisher," Venechanos said. "You watch her on video, and you see a lot of great things, but then when you watch her in person, and you have to guard her right now. That's to her benefit because teams are kind of adjusting as they go when they are playing against Cian. What kind of defender do you put on her? Do you put an off-ball, an on-ball, a takeaway defender?"
"The great thing about Cian is she was more of a supportive role, and she stepped up in a lot of big games last year, but now I think she's doing a really smart job of seeing what she has and taking advantage of it. I think that sets her apart a little bit because she's coming a little bit later on the scene, and hopefully that can be to our advantage. Hopefully, no one knows how to slow her down."
As one of two lefty attackers on the team, Dabrowski already brings a different dynamic for defenders to consider, but then she also has an unorthodox way of shooting – often taking a sidearm approach and releasing a little sooner than most would expect.
Dabrowski said that just comes along with her creativity as a player, which stems from a background playing box lacrosse with the boys for a couple years back home in Canada and playing competitive hockey most of her life. Both sports also helped her develop a different vision for the field that many traditional women's lacrosse players don't have.
"I'm a little unorthodox in my ways, but my style of play is just a little bit different, and it catches people off guard," said Dabrowski, who had 29 goals and 10 assists in 18 games last year. "It allows me to be more creative with passing and my shot selection, not always shooting the same way. I shoot a lot of sidearm, and that's kind of frowned upon in the women's game, but I think Alexis has had a lot more faith with my shots this year."
Venechanos said many of the goals Dabrowski has scored the past few games are "not too typical right now in the women's game." They are time and space shots around the 8-meter.
"We just let her do her thing in a great way, because it gives her the ability to be creative, and she's doing a great job of creating for us as a feeder and finisher," she said.
Dabrowski is even unique in how she feeds her teammates. The typical feeder in years past at Ohio State has done so from behind the attack, but she has been running offensive sets from the quarterback spot up top, which Venechanos said makes her even more of a dual threat.
A former midfielder, Dabrowski said feeding is a big part of her game, though the Buckeyes are counting on her for more scoring this year as they lost four of their top five scorers to graduation.
She's also valuable in the ride because of her midfield experience – she switched back and forth between midfield and attack growing up – and as part of the Buckeyes draw unit. She has 11 draw controls this season.
"Playing midfield helped me with riding a lot," said Dabrowski, who was a reserve midfielder as a freshman at Ohio State before switching to attack in 2014. "I take a lot of pride in trying to get us a couple more possessions on offense by getting the ball back on our ride."
According to Venechanos, Dabrowski played midfield as a freshman as a way to keep her on the field as much as she could, but after seeing how strong of a finisher she could be, the Buckeyes coach decided she could make a bigger impact as an attacker.
Dabrowski has come through in a lot of big games, even from off the bench last year. She scored four goals in an upset of eventual national champion and top-ranked Maryland in the Big Ten semifinals, including back-to-back scores that gave the Buckeyes the lead in the 11-10 win.
Ohio State will be looking for more of that kind of magic next month as it heads into conference play against the likes of Notre Dame, Northwestern, Penn State, and of course, Maryland.
"You want your big-time players to perform on that big-time stage, but a credit to her is she has that poised confidence," Venechanos said. "She has an inner confidence, a really mature side to her, that we kind of envisioned."
The Buckeyes look for continued improvement as a whole team these next few weeks before heading into Big Ten play April 2 at Michigan.
They have five more games to prepare for the end-of-season grind, hosting Cincinnati (Friday), Virginia Tech (Sunday) and Canisius (March 19) before heading to Binghamton and Hofstra.
"Our team is definitely improving," Venechanos said. "We've been putting in concepts and tactics we need to work on, and our team is definitely buying in. We're talking a lot about what you can control in games, and we're spending a lot of time on: What are you doing when you don't have the ball? What are you doing when you are playing defense on the clear or on the draw when you don't have the ball? I think we're really connecting with those concepts."
"We're excited we had an opportunity to play a tough, ranked opponent a couple weeks after Stanford and be able to apply some of our adjustments in game scenarios," added Venechanos. "I'm happy with the progress, and hopefully it continues because we have a lot of big games left to play."
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