Boston Cannons star Paul Rabil offers this advice: "The biggest challenge for the player is to be patient. I love it when teams go zone. It's not a matter of getting a shot. It becomes a matter of getting the best shot. It's important that midfielders understand the defensive rotation, don't be afraid to dodge the zone, and attack the rotation with ball movement."
Zone busters are a triple threats on the perimeter, able to shoot, penetrate or pass. Accurate stick work and a quick release are essential. And practice makes perfect. "We have never spent so much time in practice on a weekly basis, installing and drilling our zone offense," Seth Tierney said.
In 2003 Virginia used a zone defense coupled with a hot goalie and a muddy field to beat Hopkins in the NCAA title game. In 2004 Syracuse borrowed a page from Jim Boeheims book and used zone to fuel their title run. But the strategy has negatives.
Zone defense sacrifices time of possession. Late in a game when you are down three or four goals you can't play zone. You can't play zone of your goalie isn't good. Zone defense can hurt your transition, breaking out over the top of the offense is impossible. Many coaches fear that playing zone exclusively will hurt their man-to-man schemes and covering skills. Zones subtly can create lazy defenders.
Zone defense will be a storyline this weekend as Hopkins and Maryland face off on ESPNU at 8 p.m. Saturday. For the fans, watching an offense attack a zone defense without a shot clock requires patience. It may be the ideal time to run to the refrigerator for a refreshment. What looks like endless perimeter passing may actually be a play ultimately resulting in a high-percentage shot.
Tactics in lacrosse ebb and flow in a cyclical nature. Like it or not, zone defense are a staple of what we are seeing in 2011.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for the ESPN networks and writes a column for The Baltimore Sun each Friday during lacrosse season.