Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Shooters, Fogos, and Longpoles

Being raised on a steady diet of box lacrosse when I was a mere lad, I'm finding the transition to observing field lacrosse to be an interesting experience. I've seen a few games now, and I must admit that I really like it. I'll never give up box lacrosse, of course. That is the varient that most Canadians who watch lacrosse enjoy. The field version is more international, especially American.

Under a beautiful late summer sun, I began to note the differences between the two games in close detail. The shooters, the fogo, and the longpole are the main differences.

Box lacrosse players are, by far, better shooters than their field cousins. In today's first game, between Laurentian and Laurier, I was amazed at how poor the shooting was, especially when one considers the size of the field net. Laurentian players, in particular, had trouble finding the range, especially when the game was in the late stages. When Laurentian worked the ball into the attack zone, they inevitably blew their opportunity with a poorly placed shot: I've never seen so many balls go wizzing into the end zone, another scoring chance wasted.

In the second game, Western vs McMaster, the unique position of the fogo was in evidence. Fogo is short form for "face off, get off"... this is the face off specialist, a player who takes the face off, fights like a miniature sumo wrestler and then runs off as fast as he can to be replaced by either an attack man or a defender, depending on whether he won or lost the face off. All sports have degrees of specialization, of course, but none can affect the game so directly as the fogo. An example of this is the final play of the game. Western and Mac played a thrilling game, tied 8-8 at the end of regulation. Two 4-minute halves of overtime solved nothing, so they went to sudden victory. ( we used to call it sudden death ). Mac won the face off, worked the ball into Western's defensive zone, and a well-placed shot ( Laurentian please not ) beat the goalie. Mac won in overtime. Fogo may sound like a kid's science project, but he's the most important man on the field along with the goalie.

Perhaps the most dramatic difference in the games is the longpole. These are defenders who wield the lacrosse equivalent of a claymore. The pole is six feet long, taller than some of the players who use it. I watched closely to see if this weapon is unwieldy, clumsy, or awkward. Undoubtedly, a great deal of skill is needed to use it, but it is an effective weapon. Attackers can be kept at bay from a great distance if the defender is skilled and has good, quick hands. Slashes are closely monitored by the officials, so a defender just can't whack his opponent into oblivion. Nor can the defender stab with it, or use it to push an attacker back. A defender has to be deft with it, almost like a surgeon with the world's longest scalpel. And, to top it all off, the defender with the long pole occasionally needs to go upfield and join in the attack. Some good passes and decent shots ( Laurentian !!?? ) were delivered with this tool.

What it all boils down to is the determination of the player. Tools are essential, of course, and specialization is a hallmark of our civilization no matter what the human activity under examination. But it is the player, the athlete himself, who creates the game, who works harder than his opponent, who wants to win more than the other, who succeeds. Teams are a collection of hearts, minds, hands, and skills. Winning teams are those who are best able to use them all at the same time, consistently, with great effect.

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