Sept. 4, 2008
Note: This article appeared in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of the November 2007 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, a US Lacrosse publication available exclusively to its members. Join today to start your monthly subscription.
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by Matt DaSilva, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
Word to the wise: don't call Lauren Schwarzmann a defender.
"I'm a midfielder," she snaps back. "That means I play offense and defense." Thanks for the lesson, we say.
Schwarzmann, the top returning scorer for the 2008 Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team, sneers at the connotation. Her sister, Ashley, she rebuts, was the defender in the family and a darned good one at Hopkins from 2003-06.
Since she was named to the U.S. Developmental team, however, Schwarzmann could not deny that she has matured into a legitimate two-way threat for the Blue Jays. She'll pick your pocket on one end and deposit the keepings on the other.
So when the conversation turns to defense on a muggy September afternoon at UMBC, Schwarzmann finds herself, begrudgingly, in a familiar position: guarding Mary Key. Key, the most prolific scorer in Hopkins history and now a member of the U.S. Elite team, can only smile in frustration as Schwarzmann takes away her top side, then her weak side, then denies her a cut.
The nonviolent decree of women's lacrosse has made it so that the sport's least glamorous task -- defense -- is arguably its most important. No, there are no big hits or windmill checks, but that doesn't mean you should be a pushover.
Lacrosse magazine solicited their advice, and that of Elite team members Quinn Carney and Kelly Berger, on how All-Americans can be made to look average.
On-Ball Defense: Establish Position, Make Contact
Positioning is the name of the game, especially when playing one-on-one defense, because of potential violations like shooting space (obstruction of free space to the goal inside of 8 meters) and illegal checking violations.
Don't over-commit; don't under-commit. Instead, square up to your opponent within 3 to 5 yards of her. Your shoulders should be square, but your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot offset from the other.
"It's for balance," Key says, "or you're just going to get pushed over."
Crouching low, almost to a sitting position, address your opponent by making contact with her. Yes, ladies, contact is allowed.
"Especially young girls, they don't like to touch," Schwarzmann says. "Make contact."
There are two legal means by which you can do this: Schwarzmann uses her top forearm, which allows her to generate the strength from her legs; Berger uses her bottom hand, which allows greater flexibility to throw a check, the proper execution of which is detailed later in the next section.
Either way, both arms should be extended away from your body, not in tight. With a strong base (sitting low, feet offset) and a strong frame (shoulders square, arms extended, making contact), you are now in position dictate the direction in which the attacker makes her move.
To that end, Schwarzmann advises, "Listen to your teammates so they say to force her a certain way. Force her to your help. Even though Mary's right-handed, I can still force her [in that direction] and hope that my help is there."
As the attacker advances, shuffle your feet (never crossing over) to move laterally or drop step to move forward and backward, and reestablish position.
Stick Checks: 10 and 2
One need only consult the US Lacrosse Official Rules For Girls' and Women's Lacrosse definition of checking as a "controlled tap" to realize how tightly it is called. It's your job to be in position for the opportunity to throw a legal stick check. Here's how:
Once you've initiated contact with your opponent, she will probably turn her non-stick side shoulder into you for protection. Maintaining contact and body position, keep your stick upright and perpendicular to the ground. Be patient. When she presents her stick head on a cradle, snap down with your top wrist to check her crosse with your crosse, and dislodge the ball.
More simply, think of your stick as the short hand of a clock. In ready position, it is at 12 o'clock. Stick checks should be thrown at 10 and 2 o'clock as she cradles to her top and weak side.
A good drill to improve both a defender's reflexes and an attacker's retention ability is the protection drill: Both the attacker and defender are stationary. The attacker protects and cradles with her body perpendicular to the defender. The attacker should alter her rhythm, leaving it up to the defender to anticipate her next stick move. The defender attempts to dislodge the ball with quick taps of her stick to 10 and 2 o'clock.
The drill ends when the defender dislodges the ball.
"Sometimes attackers make the mistake of protecting their stick in line with the defender's body, as opposed to the defender's stick," Carney says. "You can still get a quick check if she brings her stick back."
Off-Ball Defense: Cut Off the Cutter
Defending cutters away from the ball is a matter of taking away the goal-side option and getting your stick in the passing lane. This task is most important inside the 12-meter arc, where attackers off ball are usually in motion to free themselves as a target for a feed from behind the cage.
Defending off-ball requires the same elements of body positioning as defending on-ball, with a low base and your forearm or bottom hand establishing contact with the attacker's body. You should play the angles. Don't let her draw you outside just so she can beat you inside. Instead, maintain position between her, the ball and the goal, at an apex where you can see all three.
Since your opponent is not the ball carrier, you can deny her the ball by altering your stick position to mirror hers. Even if your body blocks her to the inside, if your stick does not follow suit, she can still receive a feed. On the other hand, if she changes direction to get you out of body position, you can compensate by mirroring her stick position.
Match feet and mirror sticks, and you'll render her a non-threat.