March 5, 2013

Sheehan: The Importance of Free-Position Shots

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch |

Free-position chances and conversions can make or break a team's ability to win, writes Sheehan Stanwick Burch.
© Matt Dunn

One of the keys to early-season success is the ability to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. At this point it the season, it is critically important to score goals on free-position shots. Much like the draw control, this stat line can make or break a team's chances of taking home a win.

The 8-meter shot is a skill, and much like a free throw in basketball, the more you practice, the better you will be. What makes the free-position shot unique is there are seven different hash marks where the shooter can be placed. The location of the shot is determined by where the foul was committed. Since a goalie save is essentially a turnover, a player should consider whether a smart pass would be a better play than shooting, especially if the player is not a great shooter or is placed on an undesirable hash mark.

North Carolina coach Jenny Levy once told me that on some of her teams, there have been players with a green light to shoot on free-positions, and others who did not. Last year, Georgetown had a point in the season where they went 2-for-16 against Duke and 0-for-8 against Hopkins on the 8-meter. Hoyas coach Ricky Fried said, as a result, there was a point in the season where the Hoyas would not shoot a free-position if the personnel or angle were not ideal.

The best solution is to set aside dedicated practice time to work on free-position shots on all the hash marks on the 8-meter and talk strategy about when to shoot or maintain possession.

A look back at the weekend

Hopkins downs Loyola

In their previous twelve meetings, Loyola had beaten Johns Hopkins, but for the first time in series' history last Wednesday, the Blue Jays found a way to win against the Greyhounds. In the 11-8 victory, five of Johns Hopkins' goals came on the all-important free-position shot. This was a huge win for the Blue Jays, as it gives them momentum headed into their next game against Northwestern at home on Saturday. Meanwhile, Loyola needs to regroup a bit. The Greyhounds are struggling more than I thought they would with the early part of their schedule. Their next test is Tuesday in a tough game against a hot Florida team in Gainesville. Loyola needs to get more production out of its attack and they must keep their aggression in check, since they can't spot a talented Gators squad many free-position goals.

Florida still rolling, Syracuse learning

Florida continues to roll and remains undefeated with a decisive 14-10 victory over Syracuse. The most impressive aspect about this game, however, was that Florida was able to hold off a Syracuse comeback, which they could not accomplish last year. Syracuse scored three straight goals to pull within two with 19 minutes left, but Florida didn't break, scoring three straight of their own. Key to that effort was Gators goalie Mikey Meagher, who had eight saves in the win.

After the loss, Syracuse coach Gary Gait said, "We play this tough schedule for a reason. We want to learn a little bit about ourselves and learn what we need to work on for the end of the season. We're 2-2. We have one big win and two games where we learned a lot. We have another 13 games to work on some things and get ready. There are more challenges ahead. Hopefully, by the end of the year we'll be ready to play."

The good news for Syracuse (and the bad news for the rest of the country) is that it's only March 5. Having learned these lessons early in the season, I certainly wouldn't count out this talented group from making another run to the NCAA title game.

Maryland dominating

We all know that Maryland is loaded. What's scary, though, is every week thus far a "new" superstar has stepped to the forefront, whether it is Katie Schwarzmann, Taylor Cummings or Alex Aust, to name a few. The Terps are a matchup nightmare for their opponents. So, it's no surprise that they had two more dominating performances this week in wins over Virginia, 18-10, and Hofstra, 16-11.

The big question for Terp opponents this season is "Who do you focus on?" This reminds me of the good old days when I played against the dominant Maryland teams of the 1990s. Those teams had so many threats to score, most notably Jen Adams, but also a supporting cast of All-Americans. This season, I think most Maryland opponents go into the game thinking they are prepared and can win; I know we always did. This season, as in the past, most teams are able to hang with the Terps for a little bit. However, they manage to find another gear, dominate possession, and rack up the score. In the blink of an eye, the game is out of reach. Virginia and Hofstra both put up good efforts, but Maryland really is that good.

Virginia's yellow card trouble

Penn State took down Virginia 15-14. Though Virginia dominated the stat line in shots, saves, and draw controls, they also picked up seven yellow cards, which is troubling. The game was a series of runs by both teams. Penn State opened the second half scoring six unanswered goals to make the score 11-8 in their favor. Virginia kept fighting and took the lead again on four consecutive goals. However, Penn State counter-punched and was able to hold on to earn the win.

Game to Watch

Northwestern at Navy, 4 p.m. Monday, March 11 (TV: CBS Sports Network)

This is not the first time these two teams have met. However, Northwestern has dominated the last two matchups, winning by double-digit goals. What makes this game so special, though, is seeing two of the best coaching minds in women's lacrosse compete against each other. Navy's Cindy Timchal and Northwestern's Kelly Amonte Hiller have been so successful and, in their own ways, have dominated women's lacrosse. Cindy coached Kelly as a player at Maryland, and she inspired Kelly (and so many others) to make coaching her own career path. Amonte Hiller has, in turn, done the same for many of her former players. Northwestern already has five of its recent graduates occupying the head coaching spots at Division I schools. I don't see the outcome of the 2013 matchup between these two teams being any different than in years past, but it will be entertaining nonetheless.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing a column for every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. She'll be calling Monday's Northwestern-Navy game for CBS. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.

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