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The City Journals

Let’s learn about UHSAA’s newest sport: Lacrosse

Mar 25, 2021 12:07PM ● By Catherine Garrett

Boys and girls lacrosse have now become the 18th and 19th sports sanctioned by the UHSAA with competition beginning this spring. (Photos courtesy Steve Crandall)

By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]

Editor’s note: Since the inaugural season of high school lacrosse ended after two weeks due to the pandemic, the City Journals wanted to give readers a refresher. Here is the story originally published in March 2020 as a primer for the upcoming lacrosse season. 

Utah high schools are welcoming boys and girls lacrosse to their sanctioned sports this spring season. This traditionally “East Coast” sport is not as familiar to sports fans here so we thought we’d ask some experts in the area to give us all a “Lacrosse for Dummies” lesson.

The sport itself has plenty of differences between the boys and girls games so let’s look first at this individually.

Things you need to know about boys lacrosse

We asked Collin Madsen, boys program coordinator for Intermountain Lacrosse, to help explain the sport from the high school boys perspective.

  • There are 10 players on each side of the field – three attackers, three midfielders, three defenders and one goalie.
  • Among its midfielders, teams can use a faceoff specialist, who may come right to the sidelines after faceoffs, and a long stick midfielder, who plays with a longer stick.
  • Faceoffs, where one player from each team crouch down and fight for control of the ball, start all quarters and also happen after each goal is scored.
  • Lacrosse sticks are allowed to be deeper for the boys than the girls and the string can be mesh or traditional leather. 
  • During play, the attackers need to stay on the offensive side of the field while the defenders stay on the defensive side. The midfielders can be mobile all over the field.
  • Players can body-check another player that has the ball with referees allowing body contact from the shoulders down to the waist. Boys are required to wear full protective gear, including helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, rib pads, gloves and mouth guards.
  • Fields measure 110 yards long by 60 yards wide – that is marked with a midfield line, two restraining boxes and two creases around the goal.
  • High school games are four 12-minute stopped time quarters.

Madsen said approximately 5,500 boys play lacrosse in Utah with 2,000 of those of high school age. “I’d hope and expect both of those numbers to increase slightly this year with sanctioning and definitely see a sizeable amount of growth at both youth and high school over the next three to five years and beyond,” he said.

Things you need to know about girls lacrosse

Maddie Ferguson, the girls program director for Intermountain Lacrosse helped us understand the differences between the high school girls game and the boys.

  • There are 12 players on each side of the field – three attackers, five midfielders, three defenders and one goalie.
  • Games are started with a draw where centers from each team stand facing each other with the ball being placed between the heads of both player’s sticks. At the whistle, both players try and push or pull the ball high enough in the air that it clears the shoulders of both players. After a “fair” start, they can either get the ball from the air or the ground. The other midfielders are waiting outside the center circle until the draw is clear or a penalty is assessed and possession is given to the other team. Draws are used after each goal as well as at the beginning of the second half.
  • Lacrosse sticks have a traditional pocket and the material of that pocket can be different.
  • During play, no more than seven players can be below the restraining line on their offensive side of the field. On the defensive side, eight are allowed including the goalkeeper.
  • The top of the ball must be above the sidewall when it’s in the pocket.
  • No body-to-body or stick-to-body contact is allowed. An immediate yellow card is assessed if a player’s stick hits another player above the shoulders and a two-minute non-replaceable penalty is given (like the hockey penalty box). Two yellow cards equal a red card and players are subject to automatic removal from the game. Players are only allowed to make contact with their stick when the ball carrier is holding their stick below their shoulder. Girls are required to wear a mouth guard and goggles. 
  • Goalies remain in the goal circle, or defensive area. The three defenders are in their restraining area and typically use a square or diamond setup while the three attackers do the same in their restraining area. The five midfielders are the only players that can be in the center section of the field for the draw with the center midfielder designated to take the draw.
  • Typically, players use a tight cradle motion between the ear and the shoulder when possessing the ball.
  • Fields measure 120 yards long by 70 yards wide and contain a midfield line, two creases, an arc at eight meters and an arc at 12 meters.
  • High school games are two 25-minute halves. 

“The growth here has been amazing,” Ferguson, a New Jersey native, said. “There are more girls high school teams than ever and it’s growing at a massive pace.” She noted that nearly 40 teams have been added since UHSAA’s announcement that the sport would be sanctioned. Also, Utah now has its own U17 national team where previously they had been combined with Idaho and Montana and with that increased presence, more All-American players are being recognized from the state and moving on to play collegiately.

Where the boys and girls games are the same

  • When a team shoots and misses the goal, possession is awarded to the team that is closest to the ball when and where it exits the field of play. So the offense can take multiple shots in a possession that miss the goal, and still retain possession.
  • An offsides penalty is assessed when too many field players are over the restraining line. The maximum is seven.
  • Only goalies are allowed in the crease or goal circle unless the goalie is not in that area. In that case, a field player can run through to pick up the ball, but no defense can be made against shots on goal since they are not wearing the appropriate gear.
  • A rule of “shooting space” protects players to ensure safe play. When players are on the attack and typically around the goal area, defenders must come in from an angle – not head on – to align their bodies to defend safely. “Shooting space” penalties result in an 8-meter shot (think penalty kicks in soccer). The “dangerous propel” rule puts the responsibility on an attacking player to refrain from shooting if a defender comes at them head on until the official makes the “shooting space” call. Otherwise, the penalties offset. “Those two rules are super, super complicated to observe as they are happening, to administrate as an official, and to put into action as a player,” Collins said. “So, I would say that shooting space is one of the most common penalties in the game and generally the least understood.”
  • Yellow and red cards typically are handed out for safety and sportsmanship violations and other penalties result in change of possessions or penalty shots, depending on where on the field the fouls occurred.
  • Whether it’s boys or girls lacrosse, the most basic movement on the field is a cradle which keeps the ball securely in a player’s net. The use of an effective cradle leads to the best possible scenarios for a shot attempt or a pass.
  • When the ball is scooped off the ground, it’s called a ground ball. In a battle for that ball, players cannot hit the other’s stick if they don’t have possession of the ball. That is called an empty check and is basically a turnover, handing possession to the other team.
  • Defensemen use “d-pole” long sticks which are six feet long and designed for players to try and check and dislodge the ball from attackers from a distance. (Teams are only allowed to use up to four long poles on the field at one time while the other six players have a standard lacrosse stick that is required to be between 40-42 inches in length. These sticks allow for easier movement and protection.
  • Goalies wear full protective gear and have sticks with a much larger head than the field sticks.

“The inclusion of lacrosse as a UHSAA-sanctioned sport is huge for the sport,” Madsen said. “I think that overall it is going to have a massive impact on the sport here in the state. It is something that the Utah lacrosse community has been talking about and hoping would happen for many years, and it has finally come to fruition. I think it brings additional credibility, awareness and interest to the sport that will continue in growing the sport both in participation and performance.”

“Lacrosse is an amazing sport and it’s also an extremely different sport than many others,” Ferguson said. 

“Oftentimes there is a quick love for the game because there is a spot on the field for every kind of athlete. It’s also an amazing off-season training sport for other sports, so anyone focused on basketball has the footwork to be an amazing defender, if you love to run, well, you’re a great midfielder and football players get the physical aspect of men’s lacrosse.”