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June 19, 2016 — A different brand of lacrosse

The game of women’s lacrosse has changed greatly from the days when players wore their positions on their uniforms like in netball. Hard boundaries, the offset stick, and changes in nutrition and training techniques have changed the flow of the game.

The brand of lacrosse as currently formed through the current U.S. Lacrosse rules, is one that relies very heavily on draw controls, because it is very difficult for defenders to play actual defense under the current strictures. It’s also become very much a game where umpiring plays an outsized rule in the outcome of games, especially when fourth officials have made several crucial calls in Final Fours.

The UWLX has made a number of significant tweaks in the rules, to the point where one could argue that men’s lacrosse (to a point) is being played on a women’s pitch. The teams are 10 a side, and the restraining line is the halfway line, not the 35-yard line. This has led to multiple one-minute offside penalties during one match we observed this season.

The game also has a two-point goal, but not a two-point arc; the arc and fan are untouched from the normal rules package, but a player cannot score a two-point goal from the extreme left and right hashmark areas where there is no arc. That takes a significant judgment call out of the hands of the umpires.

Indeed, a number of calls are taken out of the umpiring purvey, including resetting players after minor or major fouls; all fouls are now self-start, which gives a soccer-like flow to the game, and penalized players aren’t placed precisely four meters behind the fouled players. And since the “freeze tag” rule is not used in UWLX, players can cut and move at will.

Where this really shows up is in the current draw procedures. Just like in Federation or NCAA rules, only the center and two wing players are allowed in between the restraining lines. But the UWLX makes a tweak in the rule: not allowing anyone else into the midfield until one of the six players takes possession of the ball. That cleans up the draw significantly, and I would not be surprised if this is adopted in U.S. Lacrosse rules.

The league is notable for being the first to use a 90-second possession clock, which will be seen nationwide starting next season. Teams, however, are not bringing the clock into play because the offenses are of such quality that they are finding good shots through their interpassing, usually leaving upwards of 45 to 50 seconds on the clock after their shot attempts.

And speaking of the interpassing and shooting: there have been some pretty awesome goals scored in UWLX play this season. Yesterday, Kara Mupo, the former Northwestern attacker, scored an impossible underhand goal from a tight angle on the right side.

That being said, defenders are allowed a bit more leeway in how they play defense. There is no empty-crosse call anymore, and there were instances when offensive players were sent to the turf with a certain amount of intention, but there was no foul called.

The UWLX does have a certain parallel with Major League Lacrosse, in that the game’s focus is not in the midfield, but in the attack ends. As a spectator, you have to pay very close attention because the ball moves rapidly — even more rapidly than if it was a top-level NCAA game. Even though the 6-on-6 game might give a team the incentive to accentuate individual play (the dodge-and-dump characteristics of decades ago), there is a lot of room for a player to receive an interior pass for a good shot at goal.

Ultimately, this is a good brand of lacrosse, one which requires precision as well as quickness. The midfield is little more than a transition zone because with the acreage in between the 35s, it’s next to impossible to apply a line of pressure on a ride.

Players with great speed are valuable in this form of the game, but there is also going to be a fitness element. The regular season will conclude the weekend of July 15-16 in Richmond, where the historic average high temperature is 90 degrees. Teams with deep benches will be able to make headway in the league standings towards the championship weekend the weekend of July 29 and 30.

It’s a fast and competitive game; in the first three match weekends, you haven’t seen any enormous blowout scores. Perhaps if you’ve been soured by the fact that a good lacrosse program can continuously crush all of its opponents in a given season, try the UWLX brand of the game. There are great players and personalities on all four teams, and they deserve your support. If you’re able to come out, please do so.

 

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