Playing with tradition

Rules changes try to keep evolving game safe

Women's final four

May 23, 2008|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN REPORTER

When Cathy Reese started playing lacrosse at Maryland in 1995, there was no restraining line. Every player on the field could be in the scoring area.

Now the Terrapins' coach, Reese is often met with amazement when she tells her players about her college days.

"I tell them about how we didn't even have a restraining line and they're like, `What?' They can't believe it. They think it's the old dinosaur age, so long ago."

The restraining line came to the women's game in 1998, Reese's senior year at Maryland, limiting each team to seven field players within 30 yards of the end line. That change, one of the biggest in the women's game, was the first in a series of new rules and tweaks in existing rules that have been welcomed by some college coaches and lamented by others.

The women's lacrosse played by Northwestern, Penn, Syracuse and Duke in tonight's NCAA Division I semifinals at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium looks much different from the game played even five years ago.

Mount St. Mary's coach Denise Wescott said that before adopting the restraining line, "The last time we had a major change was when we added the 8- and 12-meter marks in 1982. It seems like the game has changed a little faster in the last five years."

Another major change came in 2006 with hard boundaries.

Other changes include eyewear, automatic yellow cards on checks to the head, playing man-down with a fourth yellow card, substituting on the fly and allowing players' crosses to follow through into the crease.

"A lot of the rule changes have been to keep our game safe and ... any change designed to keep our game safe is worth it," Temple coach Bonnie Rosen said.

Adjustments also have been made to try to cut down on stick-to-body contact and to tighten the shooting space foul that now requires a defender in the arc to be within a stick's length of the player she's marking.

Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said rule changes have been necessary because players, sticks and coaching strategies have changed.

"The game is faster and we have much better athletes playing lacrosse now," Kimel said. "They're skilled and fast, and we feel like the rules haven't kept pace with the evolvement of the game. The game grew so quickly that we've played catch-up a little bit."

Three years ago, the first NCAA women's lacrosse rules committee was formed, and that accelerated change. Previously, US Lacrosse had set rules for all levels of girls and women's lacrosse.

"I think some of it is natural evolution, but I do think a lot of our rules changes have been about coaches wanting more control," Rosen said. "As people make coaching a career choice and they see their jobs reflecting the success of teams, they want to impose their control as much as possible. I think it's a natural thing for coaches to feel they want control."

Old Dominion coach Sue Stahl, who has coached for more than 30 years and is a former U.S. national team coach, doesn't favor a lot of changes.

"Sometimes I think we ought to coach a little better instead of worrying about changing rules. They're discussing whether to allow a stall or not, and in my opinion, just coach against it. Figure out how to break it or how to play against it and you don't have to change the rule. If you change it, then you don't have to worry about coaching, because the other team just can't do it," said Stahl, who sits on the US Lacrosse rules committee.

With safety in mind, the committee also clarifies and adjusts rules so that officials, coaches and players understand how they should be called.

"By the time they filter down in the officiating ranks, I think we're going to see a much tighter game called. If the game is called tighter, then the coaches are going to teach a little bit better in regard to safety," said Villa Julie coach Kathy Railey, a member of the NCAA rules committee.

No more big changes appear imminent, and most coaches said that's a good thing.

"It would be smart to let well enough alone for a couple of years and just let everything sink in," Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker said. "To have changes every year, I'm not in favor of that."

Tucker would prefer the experimentation period that had been used in the past, allowing something new during the fall and then assessing it.

Still, as in all growing pains, there's a struggle to find the balance between holding on to tradition and moving forward.

"Surely, the competitiveness and the desire to win is there, but it can be done without taking away the historic tradition, and I think that's really important within the game," said William Smith's Pat Genovese, who has more wins (351) than any other college women's lacrosse coach.

"I think we need to be cautious ... because it will have an effect not just on one division but all divisions and it will trickle down into the high schools."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

HOW IT'S PLAYED

Key rules changes in women's college lacrosse:

Restraining line (1998): Allows only seven field players on each team below the 30-yard line. Previously, all players were allowed full run of the field, putting too many bodies within the critical scoring area to be safe.

Hard boundaries (2006): Calls for a turnover when the possessing team loses the ball out of bounds (except on shots). Previously, the player closest to the line when the ball went out of bounds got possession.

Illegal use of the crosse (2008): Elaborates on an existing rule. A player cannot drop the head of her stick below her shoulder and use the stick to initiate contact with an opponent's body.

SEE IT

Semifinals

Tonight at Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University

No. 1 Northwestern vs. No. 5 Syracuse, 6

No. 2 Pennsylvania vs. Duke, 8:30

Championship

Sunday, 7 p.m.

Ticket information: Adults, $12; students/children, $10; under 2, free

Parking: $10

TV: All games live on CBS College Sports Network

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