October 8, 2013

30 in 30: Why is the Women's Goal Circle So Crowded?

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

An experimental rule for fall allows defenders in the goal circle even when the goalie is present. It is expected to be adopted in some form for 2014.
© AJ Mast 

Mount St. Mary's senior defender Gabe Little couldn't believe the news.

"We just heard about it the first day of practice and we were all in shock. We were pretty excited," Little said.

Hofstra junior goalie Kelsey Gregerson had a similar stunned response when she first took the field.

"I'm like, 'Wait a sec, this is my home! Why are you guys in there?'" Gregerson said. "It's weird sharing it, but I like it."

Beginning this fall, field players can boldly go where no field players have gone before, at least not with the goalie in there at the same time. They can go into the goal circle.

Experimental rules for NCAA 2013 fall ball allow for any number of defenders to move through any part of the goal circle. A single defender can even stand in the crease if she is within a stick's length of the ball carrier. The rule change, along with several others, are expected to be put into use for the 2014 NCAA season, perhaps with some tweaking. As it stands, the changes to will revolutionize crease play for both defenders in pursuit of crease attackers, and the attackers themselves.

"We had a staff meeting to ask, 'How is this going to affect us?'" Michigan coach Jenny Uhehla said. "It certainly helps our defense with all those quick attackers, but I'm really still processing the whole thing. Do I like it? I don't know yet. How will we attack against it? What are the true benefits?"

The Wolverines, who will make their NCAA debut in 2014, made heavy use of the new goal circle rules in their first-ever fall ball event against Loyola and Johns Hopkins on October 5. The first-year players still struggled to stop the more veteran attackers and lost both scrimmages, but the possibilities for how defense can operate are intriguing.

"We've been just starting to play around with it. Defensively, it's really nice. It does get a little packed in there. We're all just getting used to it," Michigan freshman midfielder Kim Coughlan said.

Johns Hopkins goalie KC Emerson said the new rules give the Blue Jays' backer defense a great advantage. Defenders who get beat behind the cage now have more room to manoeuver back into good positioning, and goalies like Emerson won't have to come out to play the attacker.

"It's a lot of fun for us. We have good chemistry, we've always pressured behind, and it's to our advantage that it's easier to get back there," Emerson said.

If the rule is challenging but fun for defenders and goalies, it's mostly a hassle for the attackers.

"Attacking is always hard, but now that we can beat them either way around they have to make better moves and better dodges," Little said. "They were definitely complaining about it."

Loyola coach Jen Adams, arguably the most successful crease attacker to ever play the game, was relatively nonplussed by the changes, even though the Greyhounds offense runs through junior attacker Annie Thomas who often feeds from behind or from the goal line extended.

"We've practiced it one on one, and defensively, it's allowing us to get to goal line extended quicker," Adams said. While the new rules might limit a player like former Syracuse attacker Michelle Tumolo, known for her slippery crease rolls, a more pass-oriented player like Thomas is relatively unaffected.

"The speed of a player shooting from goal line extended is going to be affected a little bit, but a great X player is going to find a way to score from back there or feed from back there," Adams said.

For her part, Gregerson loved playing with the new goal circle rules at the Pride's HEADstrong tournament earlier this month, where Hofstra unofficially won all four of its scrimmages. She also likes the idea of being at the forefront of a sea change in women's lacrosse.

"It's is huge. I remember when I was playing in the third grade and goggles came in. Now I'm part of a whole big change where girls are somewhat playing like guys. I think it's a great step forward for the game," she said. "It's great to say I was playing during that."

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