Indoor play useful refresher

Lacrosse: A growing league offers off-season games - a scaled-down version of the outdoor sport - that helps athletes hone their skills.

Howard At Play

December 19, 2004|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Christmas lights may adorn many houses at the moment and snow may be on the way, but it is still lacrosse season - indoor lacrosse, that is.

A fixture for many Howard County players, indoor lacrosse is, paradoxically, a faster, more demanding version of the outdoor game, but one with room for fun, experimenting and a chance to work on that left-handed shot.

Many county players - whether they are on club-level travel teams or high school teams - play in the Maryland Indoor Lacrosse League, which uses the indoor fields at the Owings Mills Sports Arena, Perring Athletic Club in Parkville and the newly opened Bare Hills Athletic Club in North Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood.

There are no practices, just weekly games.

Wes Bachur, a Towson resident who manages the league with Mel Manson, said that nearly 300 teams from the Baltimore area, including 19 from Howard County, are playing this winterusing the five available fields. Lacrosse is being played 140 hours a week, he said.

"Indoor [lacrosse] has grown tremendously," Bachur said. "Every year, more and more teams are coming in. The reason is the kids love it. The game is more fun because it's constant action. ... The weather is always good, and there's less pressure. The philosophy of the league is that it's for fun and skill development."

During the season, which runs from early October to mid-January, standings are not kept. Some girls teams don't keep score, Bachur said.

The indoor game is a scaled-down version of outdoor lacrosse, with a goalie and six field players, two of whom must stay behind the center line when a team is attacking its opponent's goal. The rules are essentially the same, but boys are not allowed to body check near the dasher boards around the field.

Little pressure

Diane Benson, an Ellicott City resident who coordinates the girls travel program for the Howard County Lacrosse Program, said her program fields two teams for 11- and 12-year-olds and two teams for 13- to 14-year-olds.

"It really develops stick skills," Benson said. "You have to have better stick work, because [players] are so close. You have to protect the stick because of the way they can trap you against the wall. You have to pick it up quicker and use your speed.

"You don't have a second, not like in full-field where you have a second or two to rest. We do work on plays, but we want them to work on basic skills - take a chance with a left-handed shot - it's indoor; this is the time to do it."

Bachur said a player can choose to work on any skill, because, for example, if in trying to play left-handed, if they lose the ball the first five times they try, it doesn't affect anything.

"Winning games in indoor is absolutely meaningless," he said.

Joe Dougherty, an Ellicott City resident and head of the Howard County Lacrosse Program who also is coaching a boys squad from Centennial High playing indoors, said the skills are the same ones needed for outdoor lacrosse. But, he added, because the playing area is more compressed, players must develop better passing and catching skills, and a better sense of the game.

"You always have to be thinking - every stride, whether you're off ball or on ball, offense or defense," Dougherty said. "The fact that it's a little more compressed means you have to make decisions earlier, and you have to be that much more cognizant [of what other players are doing]. It magnifies your strengths and weaknesses. You see in indoor where a kid is one-handed and he runs into traffic - the [defense] is two steps away, instead of 5 yards away."

Cross-training

Dougherty's philosophy is that kids pay the same amount to play, so all should play. Costs are about $100 per player, depending on how many are on a team.

But the enjoyable part is that defenders play offense and vice versa; the left attacker switches to right attack; and more than one player has tried goalie or center for the first time.

"If it's an extra-man offense, you go with whoever's out there," Dougherty said.

Coaches also realize that it is not truly lacrosse season, and that players might miss games because of other sports.

The Howard County Lacrosse Program's boys travel squads opted not to play indoor lacrosse this winter, although squads from several high schools are doing so.

Bob Williams, boys travel coordinator for the youth organization, said that the big conflict was with football, which goes well into November, and he estimated that two-thirds of his lacrosse players were playing football.

"I'm a firm believer in cross-training," he said, adding that the kids are playing basketball, hockey and wrestling in the winter.

"[Indoor lacrosse] is not the same game as the field game," he said. "All we were basically getting was a continuation of stick work. But I'm happy they're playing other sports."

It is not unusual for kids to leave a lacrosse game to head to a soccer game, or to arrive sweating from a basketball game.

"I don't know how the kids do it, but they're incredible athletes," Benson said.

Added Dougherty, "I love indoor lacrosse. It just whets my appetite for outdoor lacrosse."

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