Sept. 11, 2007
Note: This article appeared in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of Lacrosse magazine in April 2006. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered in the "Classroom," e-mail section editor Matt DaSilva at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by John Gagliardi, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Variety is the spice of life.
The cliche is applicable to defending in lacrosse, too, especially given the increased use of technology and film study in scouting. As a defenseman, having a limited repetoire of stick checks makes you predictable and vulnerable.
Add to your game and boost your individual and team defense by learning the eight checks described below.
1. Wrap Check -- While having two hands on your stick, you run with your opponent and release your bottom hand, then wrap your stick around your opponent's body. If right-handed, you would throw against a lefty cradler. You are trying to hit the head of his stick. If you miss the check, get both hands back on your shaft ASAP and try again. Out of all the checks, this is the easiest and most effective check that also looks good. This is the check I throw most often.
2. Ding Dong -- While running with an opponent, you lift both hands up like you are going over his head while your stick is in front. Instead of going over his head, you come back down across the front of his body to check his stick. This is an advanced check that is extremely effective once you learn how to throw it properly. Rick Beardsley from Syracuse made this check look easy against first-team All-Americans.
3. Over-the-Head Check -- While running with your opponent, you go over his head while your butt end is pointed to the sky. You are trying to come down on his hands or stick. It's dangerous, but it looks great when you land it! Good check for taller players. Former Hopkins player and current coach Dave Pietramala was the master of this check.
4. Back Slap -- Same as wrap check (release your bottom hand and rap around your opponent), but a righty might opt to throw this variation of the check against a righty cradler. Instead of releasing in front of the stick, you throw the check across the upper back trying to hit the head of his stick. Great check to throw when an opponent is changing direction from left to right. Great check against medium-to-slower opponents. Team USA's Nick Polanco has this check down pat.
5. Butt Dig -- A two-handed check that derived from the basic poke check. While running with your opponent, you give him a few pokes in front of his body. On the second, third or fourth poke, bring your stick behind your opponent's body like a shovel, come up along his butt and try to dig the butt end of his stick. Cool check that works once you master it. Pat McCabe throws the smoothest butt dig in the game.
6. Kayak -- Also called the "scissor" check. When a right-handed defenseman is going against a right-handed cradler, a kayak can be thrown. After throwing a butt dig, you come in close like you are doing a dig again. Only instead of digging the butt, you cross your hands while throwing the butt end of your stick at your opponent's stick head. You have to cross your arms like scissors while reaching with your butt end to hit his stick head. Not many people can throw it effectively. Hopkins great Rob Doerr threw the most effective kayak I have ever seen.
7. Back Side Wrap Check (to Butt End) -- Can you say helicopter? A righty would throw this check against a one-handed righty cradler. Once you have figured out the timing of your opponent, you throw a one-handed back wrap check on the backside, releasing your bottom hand. But instead of going after your opponent's stick head, aim for his butt end. If you hit the butt end at the right time, you will send your opponent's stick into what is called a helicopter. A helicopter is when your opponent's stick goes flying out of his hand, spinning in the air like a helicopter propeller. It's the nicest check world if you land it. Guaranteed to be a big topic of conversation after the game. I have seen current North Carolina defenseman Stephen McElduff land this check effectively several times.
8. Pencil Check -- When an opponent is trying to back you in like a truck, you can throw a pencil (if up by four-plus goals). A pencil check is a one-handed check over the head. After pushing out a few times, you fake the push and with your right hand up on top of the shaft (other hand free) you go over his head and try to hit the head of his stick with the lower half of your shaft. Extremely dangerous but looks great when you land it. Ryan Curtis of Team USA has this check down.
I have been lucky enough to be coached by and to have played with all of these great players. Studying these guys and practicing gave me the edge. You have to remember, it is very important to keep your feet moving in full speed when throwing any of these checks. You will be in trouble (and next to the coach) if you stop your feet.
Make sure you practice these checks against your teammates before testing them in a game. The goal would be to incorporate 3-4 of these checks into your game. Good luck!
John Gagliardi is the founder of Maverik Lacrosse (maveriklacrosse.com) and No Limit Lacrosse Camps (nolimitlacrosse.com). A defenseman for the MLL's Long Island Lizards, he was a member of the 2006 U.S. team.