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Archive for October 17, 2022

Oct. 17, 2022 — The metrics of a desperation tactic

Yesterday’s Big Ten Conference field hockey game featuring Rutgers and Maryland featured a tactical incident that I have never seen before.

With 4:14 to go in regulation, and Maryland having taken a 3-1 lead seconds earlier, the Rutgers coaching staff threw the dice and removed goalkeeper Sophia Howard from the game for an 11th outfielder.

In field hockey, as in other sports, a coaching staff can use any number of tactics late in the competition to try to win the game via an unorthodox strategy. Some tactics, like the Hail Mary in football, are borne out of necessity. Others, like the splash-and-go strategy in NASCAR, are brilliant improvised master strokes that have won races like the 1981 Daytona 500.

These days, tactics are now often dictated by metrics. Formula One crew chiefs figure out when to “cross over” opposing teams by changing tires at a particular point in the race to give themselves an advantage. NHL coaches pull goalies knowing that their success rate is somewhere around 15 percent.

In football, the tactic of the onside kick used to be more successful with kickers who were able to make the ball bounce in unorthodox ways to allow the kicking team a better chance at fielding the ball. That is, before the rules were changed in 2018 dropping the success rate of the onside kick from about 20 percent to four percent in 2020-21.

Now, in field hockey, the change in indoor rules from having six players a side to five allowed some adventurous teams, especially in men’s competition, to pull the goalie routinely and have five outfielders whenever they had the ball. A quick substitution would result when there was a turnover, and the defending team wouldn’t be quick enough to take advantage of the empty cage. This led to the Rules of Indoor Hockey being changed to limit goalie substitutions.

We’re seeing more coaches in the NCAA work on pulling the goalkeeper, even though the current rules package does not give the extra player the “kicking back” privileges of a few years ago. Instead, field players can now guard the goal even while raising the stick above the shoulder.

Usually, the tactic is employed when the deficit is one goal. What Meredith Civico and her staff did is out of the question — that is, until yesterday, when Rutgers scored two goals 1:51 apart by Indy van Ek and Guillermina Causerano.

But in a final twist to the tale, Maryland’s Leah Crouse got her stick on a bouncing shot and pushed it into the cage just 1:05 after Rutgers had gotten back on level terms, a play which won the game in a 4-3 thriller.

Kinds of makes you think: shouldn’t this be a tactic allowed in American high schools?