Contact rule is sticky issue

A new mandate for girls lacrosse limiting stick-to-body contact has its proponents and its detractors.


Megan Bosica pays a price for many of the goals she scores for Mount Hebron's No. 1 lacrosse team -- bruised arms.

Defenders have trouble stopping the slippery senior midfielder, last year's All-Metro Player of the Year who rolled up 65 goals, so they often resort to trying to contain her with their sticks, shoving them against her as she tries to get by.

"It's painful," Bosica said.

St. Mary's midfielder Samantha Schrum hasn't had such bruised arms, but she still feels the pain from some close defenders.

"When defenders really get on your body, it's supposed to be uncomfortable, but not to the point where they're jabbing their stick into your side. When they put the bottom part of the stick on your hip and start jabbing it into your side, that is not allowed, but the refs don't see it," said Schrum, an All-Metro second-team pick who scored 78 goals for the No. 2 Saints.

While women's lacrosse officials have always been safety conscious and allowed little checking, the sport has become more physical in recent years. Defenders often use their sticks to try to push opponents out of the way.

In an effort to cut down on that contact and thwart any move toward wearing padding the way the men do, the US Lacrosse women's division rules committee, which governs the game at all levels, is cracking down on stick-to-body contact.

The new rule states: "A player must not initiate crosse-to-body or body-to-crosse contact." In the past the rule only warned against using the stick "in a dangerous and/or intimidating manner."

"It's a non-contact sport," said referee Sue Diffenderffer, the interpreter of rules for the state public school league. "There never should have been stick-to-body contact, and to me, it got out of hand, so we had to go write a rule for it."

No one has played with the new rule yet, and most coaches said they aren't sure exactly what to expect.

"It's hard to play defense without any stick-to-body contact," Towson coach Kathy Brave said. "If you're closing in on a person and you can't make any contact whatsoever, then you're not closing the space as well as you should be. I'm telling them not to go in for the check, because that's when you make body contact."

Roland Park coach Erin Millon said she expects a lot of calls.

"It's not necessarily going to be because the girl's violently cross-checking, but what we've seen over the last few years is that inadvertent stick that goes to the body because they can't get their feet moving quick enough or they're reaching because they can't get their feet there."

Centennial coach Katie Marks said, "I think it's a great rule, because it's going to clean up the mess, the sloppiness and laziness. It's going to make the average players into better players. It's going to force them to play better defense."

Most coaches said such fundamentals as footwork and body positioning will become as important as they were before the game became so physical.

"It's just going to go back to the way it was five or 10 years ago, where you don't want to have that contact," Winters Mill coach Courtney Vaughn said. "We keep emphasizing to the kids hug-the-tree [on defense], don't move in and out and hold body position. I don't think things will change too much, especially on the high school level, because they didn't let us get away with much anyway."

Severna Park coach Carin Peterson doesn't like the change.

"What they're saying out there is girls can't play. They can't be aggressive," Peterson said. "It's contact that doesn't come close to what the guys have. It's just good defensive positioning. It's a shame that these girls get more athletic and then they're restricting play."

Fran Trumbo, the rules interpreter for the Baltimore Board of Women's Officials and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, said contact would not always result in a foul. Incidental contact or mutual contact, initiated by both the attacker and the defender, would result in no call.

Calling every touch would shut down the flow of the game, she said. She likened a defender with good footwork and body position holding the stick against an attacker to hand checking in basketball.

"You're not supposed to hand check, but you know it's done. It's permitted as long as it doesn't detain the opponent or take away from the game," Trumbo said.

Bosica, who also plays on the defensive end of the field, said the change could help defenders.

"In college, they're all about moving their feet and getting body positioning," said Bosica, who is headed to North Carolina next year. "College defense is like, amazing, so I'm sure with this new rule everyone's defense is just going to be much better."

Trumbo and Diffenderffer also stressed that the onus of this foul is not all on the defense. Attack players won't get away with running into the defender's stick, either. While it appears the new rule would result in more eight-meter free-position shots, it may also result in more charges.

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