Lacrosse: A game of keepaway

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and possession in lacrosse is determined after each goal and a
Saratoga Springs' Amanda Flemming (22) and Guilderland's Hayley Kmack take the draw during a Section II Class A semifinal game at Guilderland High School on May 20.
Saratoga Springs' Amanda Flemming (22) and Guilderland's Hayley Kmack take the draw during a Section II Class A semifinal game at Guilderland High School on May 20.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and possession in lacrosse is determined after each goal and at the start of each period with a faceoff in the boys’/men’s game and a draw in the girls’/women’s game.

If a team wins the majority of these games within the game, that team is driving the bus. Offense is not the best defense . . . possession is the best defense, and offense is the best offense. Winning these quick contests leads to both.

With lacrosse camps about to start up, here are five keys to success on the faceoff and the draw, provided by players, coaches and instructors from the area.


The “X” at the center of the field marks the spot, and possessions resulting from winning the faceoffs that take place there are as treasured as buried gold.

Two opponents line up facing each other on opposite sides of the ball, their sticks in hand and parallel to each other, pockets in line with the ball. When the referee blows the whistle, the players will employ different techniques, strength and quickness to either gain possession or pop the ball out to a teammate.

Here’s how:


“If you’re unbalanced, if you’ve got too much weight on your hands, then whatever technique you’re using, you’ve got to win that technique,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Tom Schwan said. “If you’re unbalanced and you don’t win, the opponent is going to be off and running, and it’s going to take you half a second for you to adjust.”


“You want to get the push over the guy, and once you tie up, to be able to outmuscle him,” Ballston Spa rising senior Pat Fennelly said. “If you look at Greg Gurenlian [instructor with The Faceoff Academy and Major League Lacrosse 2014 faceoff specialist of the year], he’s huge. He’s going to out-power anybody.”


“If you don’t have hand speed, it’s hard to attack the ball and clamp down on the ball before your opponent does,” Niskayuna rising senior Dylan Pantalone said. “When the ref says ‘Down,’ I’ll kind of pop my wrists back all the way, then as soon as I hear the first sound of a whistle, I’ll immediately snap down as fast as I can. I’ll do a ‘C’ out of it, in front of my opponent.”


“I would put that as the most important part,” said Jerry Ragonese, instructor with The Faceoff Academy and former MLL player. “If you get more of your bottom edge on a guy’s stick, you can push his stick out of the way, and it’ll be very easy. That’s where we see a lot of success at the college level now; guys using leverage, because of how they’re attacking the ball, as opposed to guys who just clamp or something like that.”


“Coming out of your stance, you need quick leverage on your opponent — getting up quick and being able to defend which way he goes, getting a better start,” Shaker rising junior Michael Stiso said. “You have to react, do what you want to do while understanding what he’s trying to do and be able to defend against it.”


Unlike the boys, the girls don’t wear pads and helmets, so an ear-to-ear scrum on the ground is out of the question.

The girls begin with a draw instead of a faceoff — the ball suspended between the pockets on the two girls’ sticks. When the whistle blows, they move to gain possession and send the ball to a teammate or to space where a teammate can get it. Then, as Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake rising senior Haley Schultz said, “Win the draw, rule the world.”

Here’s how:


“We try to teach the kids to keep their eyes on the refs, not on their opponent, not on the ball, but on the official,” Niskayuna coach Jason Bach said. “As they back away, [we want them] to try to anticipate the whistle, because that will trigger the hand speed and wrist strength, to get under the ball and pop it or pull it in the way you would like to.”


“A lot of people think it’s about how much pressure you can put on the ball and pushing it where you want it to go, but it’s really about taking pressure off and letting the ball fall into the pocket of your stick,” Queensbury rising senior Mara Bureau said. “Once you get the wrist speed and get it falling into your stick, then you can put it wherever you want.”


“If you can get control of the ball on your stick, then you have complete control of where the ball is going to go,” Guilderland graduating senior Rebecca Golderman said. “The first person to move will get control of the ball in their stick, so then you can control where the ball goes.”

PLACEMENT of ball and teammates

“Being able to place the ball where teammates are or teammates aren’t so you get it yourself” is vital, Schultz said. “If you can place it, you’ll know where to put your teammates on the circle. . . . We have special cues with certain girls who take the draw. If I give them a certain look or tap my feet [they move to adjust].”


“Your reaction to the ball is the most critical,” Shenendehowa coach Jenn Sykes said. “The ball goes in the direction that I’m pushing or pulling it, and people call that winning the draw, but I consider winning the draw gaining possession, which involves everyone around.”

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