April 18, 2007

Riding Game Key for M. Lax

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There is so much buildup to a lacrosse shot that there is always a moment, lost in the shuffle, when one wonders what will happen if that shot doesn’t go in. Maybe it ricochets off the goalie, and a defender picks up the ground ball. The opposing crowd applauds with the relief at a successful defensive stand, and relaxes momentarily.
The next 10-20 seconds on the field are coherent chaos for many of the players. There is no time to relax. It’s go time for the Red’s riding game. With the opposing defense streaking toward the midfield line, there’s no time to cry over spilt milk.
“As soon as that ball goes down you get a couple guys on him to try and turn him back,” said junior midfielder John Glynn. “We move our attack deep to give us some space, and we try to sub to get some long poles on.”
“What you really need to do out there is have everybody do a dead-on sprint to the spot they need to be,” said senior long-stick midfielder Ethan Vedder.[img_assist|nid=22977|title=We fly high, no lie, you know this.|desc=Senior midfielder Ethan Vedder (13), who had an assist and three ground balls against Penn, flies by a Quaker defender in Cornell’s 20-5 victory on March 31.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=69]
Early in the season, the Red controlled the pace of its games through the face-off circle. Sophomore Tommy Schmicker was in a groove and winning midfield challenges left and right. A March 1 matchup with Notre Dame saw Schmicker dominate the face-off circle, grabbing 18-of-24. Meanwhile, the riding game allowed 22-of-25 clears to get by the midline. Since Spring Break, however, it has been the riding game doing much of the tempo setting for Cornell, with Schmicker and the face-off squad running into some tough competition at the “X” in teams like Duke, Penn and Syracuse.
While players claim that the strategy on the riding game has not changed since the season started, something certainly has clicked. After not breaking up more than five clears against any team, Cornell exploded against Harvard, locking down the Crimson’s transition game, allowing only 15-of-26 successful clears. Since then the riding game has been on a tear, with Syracuse going 18-for-27 on clears and Dartmouth converting only 11-of-17.
“I think we’re just getting more used to each other,” Vedder said. “We’re talking to each other and communicating better. We have the same personnel; we’re just getting comfortable out there. At the start of the year those groups don’t necessarily do a lot together. You are going against each other a lot in practice.”
With each attack, midfield and defensive unit spending so much time trying to get in synch, the riding game creates a unique situation where these groups are forced to work together. With the six defensemen plus the goalie, the opposing team essentially has seven players to work the ball upfield against the six Cornell players.
While the frontline attackmen swarm to the ball, some of the middies sprint toward the sideline, allowing the long-stick midfielders to come in. The long-sticks must communicate with the attackmen already on the field, riding the opposing players, to determine their positions.
“Basically, you want to trap the ball in one spot and make sure you make the next task difficult,” said senior midfielder Brian Clayton. “It’s not that we’re trying to knock the ball to the ground but we are just trying to push the team to a position where they have to make the longest pass. You deny the biggest threat, mainly the shorties, and you have the goalies or longsticks handle the ball.”
This makes communication key — “hustle, communication and not being too overaggressive so you sacrifice position,” are Clayton’s three keys. Glynn agreed, pointing out that with the attack riding the players toward the sideline, it is essential for everyone to be on the same page about what is happening. This way, instead of just having someone chase the clearing player going for the knock down, the attack can pass its player off to a middie, who will ride him into a double team. Many of these double teams are created when the long-sticks rotate in from the sideline.
“Coming out through the deep box in the midfield you have to come on to the field aware of what’s going on and match up with their deepest middie that drops into your zone to stop any fast break,” said sophomore long-stick midfielder Matt Moyer.
“You have a bunch of guys including our coaches saying just drop back and play defense, and you have other guys saying cover him. You have to have a good feel for the game,” Vedder said.
Players pointed to the team’s recent success as a product of an attack squad that never quits on the ride and simple hard work in practice against a talented scout team.
“Our scout team has been doing a great job of forcing us to ride the ball hard. They’ve been handling the ball really well [in practice],” Moyer said. “We’ll have the clearing team use an extra guy. We’ll have to work on riding a team with two more men than we have. You have to learn to communicate. Get in passing lanes and cover two people maybe with one guy. Once you get to a game and you have to cover one less guy things are easier on us.”
Even though a team may only have a successful ride five or six times in a 60-minute game, each player stressed the game-changing nature or those few rides.
“When we ride the ball back our sidelines explode,” Moyer said.
“Momentum is definitely a big thing because when you ride the ball back after you’ve had a long possession on offense, your continuing it, and you have tired and discouraged defenders,” Clayton said. “You’ve got offensive guys you can substitute — it’s easier to substitute on offense than on defense — and some fresh legs on.”
In the Red’s two one-goal games this year, both wins, Vedder explained that the few extra possessions from riding the ball back were essential.
“In the Syracuse game we rode well and had a bunch of extra possessions,” Vedder said. “… It is a big deal with our team that we need to give our offense as many opportunities as possible. In the Duke game, if we don’t give our team those few extra possessions from riding, the outcome might had been different.