By Michelle Lewis
Louisville women’s lacrosse is an underappreciated sport on campus and across the community. Part of that is likely due to people simply not understanding the game and the small but growing number of high school lacrosse programs in the state. While increasing the number of people playing is a slow process and not easily accomplished in the space of a newspaper article, increasing our understanding of the basic rules is achievable. That should, in turn, increase the sport’s interest and fan base.
The object of the game is to use a long handled stick known as a crosse to catch, pass, or carry a hard rubber ball down field and into the opponent’s goal. Depending on the player and strategy tosses may be overhanded, underhanded, or sidearm. Defensively the object, of course, is to prevent the opposing team from scoring and to get possession of the ball through the use of stick checking and body positioning. Watching women’s lacrosse can sometimes feel like watching the lovechild of soccer and ice hockey, but it can be even more intense than either at times.
Equipment required to play women’s lacrosse is limited but specific. The athletes are only required to wear eyewear/lacrosse goggles, and a mouth guard. Their stick has restrictions, it has to be a certain length and the pocket cannot be too deep. In addition, players may choose to wear gloves if they wish.
The rules of women’s lacrosse can be long and complicated but there are a few key points that will help a fan understand and enjoy the game.
Women’s lacrosse is played with 12 players on the field. The most easily recognizable of the players is the goalkeeper. The ball used is usually yellow, but if both teams agree then the game can be played with a different colored ball. The game is 60 minutes long and divided into two 30 minute halves. Each team gets two team time-outs per game. Time-outs may be taken after a goal has been scored. The team with possession of the ball may call a time out but on defense play is only stopped for injuries.
Traditionally teams played with three attackers, five midfielders, three defenders, and a goalie but many now play with seven players playing attack at one time facing off against seven defenders. Generally teams now have four attackers, four close defenders, and three midfielders on the field at a time.
Just like any sport, lacrosse has its own method of starting a match and determining possession. The “draw” starts the game and also keeps the game going after a goal is scored. The draw is when players, one from each team, stand at center circle with the backs of their sticks facing each other. The referee places the ball between the two sticks and the players push their sticks together parallel to the ground to try and gain control of the ball. There can be four players from each team (two Midfielders, one Attack wing, and one Defense wing) surrounding the center circle during the draw. The players’ sticks around the circle cannot break the line until the whistle is blown. The centers must raise their sticks over their heads while releasing the ball.
When the referee blows the whistle during play all players must stop right where they are. If the ball goes out of bounds on a shot then the player closest to the ball is awarded the possession. If the ball goes out of bounds not on a shot then the other team is awarded possession. For example, if a player threw a bad pass to her teammate and the ball went out of bounds then the other team would receive the ball, similar to the way it works in basketball. If the ball goes out of bounds on a shot, it is common for the player to reach out her stick in an attempt to be ruled closest to the ball and gain possession.
Protecting one’s stick from being checked is a very important key in the game. In order to protect the stick from being checked, the player must cradle the ball. If the player has a strong “cradle”, it is much more difficult to for the opposing team to take the ball from them.
“Cradling” is the back and forth movement and twisting of the head of the stick, which keeps the ball in the pocket. Players may only check if the check is directed away from the ball carrier’s head. Also, players may only check using the side of their stick. If the referees catch an athlete using the flat of the head, it is called as a “held check” and the opposing team gets the ball.
There are two types of fouls or penalties in lacrosse- major and minor. When a minor foul is called, the player who committed the foul is set four meters to whichever side she was last guarding the person she fouled. If a major foul occurs, the fouler must stand four meters behind the player she fouled.
Penalties are somewhat similar to soccer in the awarding of different colored cards for different types of infractions. The green card is given to the team captain and is for a delay of game. A yellow card is for a first-time penalty and results in the player being removed from the field for three minutes. Any player who receives two yellows sits out the rest of the game but is allowed to play in the next game.
The most serious penalty card is the red card which is the result of a flagrant foul or extremely unsportsmanlike behavior, and causes the player to be ejected from the game. Any player that receives a red card is not permitted to play in the team’s following game. Examples of what constitutes a penalty include rough/dangerous checks, check to the head, holding, illegal contact and illegal use of crosse.
There is, of course, much more to women’s lacrosse but the best way to learn about it is by watching and now you have some basic information so that you can follow along and enjoy the matches.
The Cardinals’ first home game is February 16, at 1:00 pm against Detroit.