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Archive for September 2, 2019

Sept. 2, 2019 — A bit of a memoir on Year 22

This week begins our 22nd year of this site, one which tries to bring context, perspective, and a bit of controversy in the field hockey and lacrosse communities nationwide.

Today, I want to expand on what we posted on Instagram last Saturday, when we talked about The College of New Jersey’s head coach, Sharon Pfluger.

To me, she’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any level, for any sport. But it is not just because of the championships, the number of wins, the number of seasons she has coached, or the number of All-Americans she has coached.

The reason for her greatness, I think, is the fact that she has maintained a consistent excellence in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse as both games have changed radically over the last three and a half decades.

If you find a VHS tape of a women’s lacrosse or field hockey game from the early 1980s, when Pfluger started her coaching career, you might not recognize either sport.

In lacrosse, you won’t see a possession clock, and the field won’t have a hard boundary. The players all have traditional mulberry sticks, and there are no restraining lines. In addition, you don’t have the additional spot at the goal line where some behind-the-cage fouls are restarted, and you don’t have the hashmark halfway down the fan to keep defenders from taking space close to goal on free position shots.

In field hockey, the obstruction rule is tightly called, the game is almost invariably played on grass, goalies are wearing cane leggings and leather kickers fit over soccer shoes, and the offside rule is in force.

And you won’t find a self-start anywhere.

It’s almost like Pfluger has coached upwards of six different sports in her 70 seasons at The College of New Jersey. You can argue that these six sports represented different eras of the game:

  • Women’s lacrosse Unbounded Era (1923-1997): No boundary, no restraining lines, and teams would customarily bring forward seven, maybe eight attackers into the attack, sometimes sending the third man on a delayed basis in order to create an unbalanced situation
  • Women’s lacrosse 7-v-7 Era (1998-2016): The restraining line and hard boundaries are introduced to make it more like the men’s game, plus the addition of the offset stick makes passing and shooting quicker and more accurate than ever before
  • Women’s lacrosse Go Era (2016 to present): The 90-second possession clock, the self-start, and free movement make the game one of speed rather than tactics and possession
  • Field hockey Grass Era (1901-1994): Goalies with cane leg guards and leather kickers, conservative interpretation of what constitutes obstruction, and wooden sticks
  • Field hockey Turf Era (1995-2015): The introduction of water-based turf at almost every Division I university as well as the elimination of offside forces many changes in tactics, including getting goalkeepers to wear foam pads to create deep rebounds. It was also during this time when the aluminum field hockey stick was first introduced, and there were also some interestingly-shaped sticks for goalkeepers and for drag-flickers
  • Field hockey Go Era (2016-present): The self-start, space-age composite sticks, changes in the long-hit rule (moving from a hashmark near the corner flag to the 23-meter stripe), as well as the widespread availability of rubber-infill turf turns the game into a speed game

The changes in both field hockey and lacrosse are so much more radical than those of other U.S. college sports. It can spawn thought experiments as to how well, for example, Paul “Bear” Bryant would have done coaching against football teams running the jet sweep. Or how well Henry Iba would have done coaching basketball with a shot clock and a three-point line.