Lefty Love & NCAA Playoff Recap
NCAA Tournament Time and some Lefty Love!
It’s the most exciting time of the year in college women’s lacrosse with 28 of the top teams playing to see who the best DI Team is in the country. My pick is the UNC Tar Heels. That cool-headed decision has nothing to do of course with my graduating from Chapel Hill decades ago or my son heading there in the Fall.
In talking about this year’s Tournament, I’ll start with another Tar Heel team from 2016 which won it all. I love that team because of the names. If you were ever going to send a band of rough and tough warriors on a quest to destroy the One Ring and end the reign of the Dark Lord forever, it would be women named Messinger, McCool and Hazar.
Watching how they beat Maryland that year in the final game, we can see another Velociraptor attack from the past, lefty play. Decades ago, players and coaches identified that lacrosse is a game of angles and lefties were extraordinarily important because of the favorable angles they created. It meant that coaches went out of their way to develop lefties and ran a good portion of their offense through them. Today, that insight has decreased particularly in regions where lacrosse is new. For example, teams that field 7 right-handed players on offense are extremely limited and have a very low ceiling on the number of goals that they can score. Often going from 0 lefty players to 2, even if those 2 are not as good as the righties they’ve replaced, a team will often score 30-40% more goals.
The first twenty minutes of the of 2016 Championship Game shows this concept perfectly. UNC initiated its offense through a clever lefty attack, Aly Messinger, while Maryland relied on two great players, Taylor Cummings and Megan Whittle, who are both righty dominant. Aly had 4 assists in helping Carolina take a 6-1 lead.
Why was she so effective? First, she has speed to turn the corner when dodging from behind the net and so presents a threat to the offense (lefties who aren’t as fast can do the same with good footwork and change of speed and direction). She has great vision and the willingness to share the ball. That second set of skills plays in particularly well with her handedness. My old coach used to say, “Lefty feeder, righty shooter.” In fact, if you were to moneyball the efficiency of lacrosse scoring at the elite level, you would find the following:
Why is this the case? There are several reasons:
More Righty Shooters than Lefties on a team.
Goalies are less experienced with the look.
Defense is less experienced with the look.
Better Angles. When the hand of the shooter is the opposite of the feeder, it means that more off ball players are potential shooters. The following is a very typical cutting sequence that we see in women’s lacrosse. You can see that having a feeder with the opposite hand of the shooter increases the number of good options, thus putting more pressure on a defense.
In fact, of Ms. Messinger’s 4 assists, at least 1 would not have been possible if the cutter\shooter had been the same hand as her, or lefty.
More Righties than Lefties on a team. If cutters should be a different hand from the feeder, then it’s logical that the feeder should always be a lefty. After all, there are usually only 1or 2 lefties on an average youth or high school offense. If a righty feeds, then there are only 1 or 2 potential cutters. If a righty feeds, then there are 5 or 6 potential cutters. A defense has a harder time with 5 cutters than 2. Pure math.
Goalies are less experienced with the look. Unless the goalie grew up in Maryland or Long Island, I estimate less than 5% of their reps in youth or high school were against lefty dodgers feeding to righty cutters.
Another reason is that a lefty to righty pass or vice versa often leads to a weakside swing of the ball. This is the most dangerous time for a defense, yet many teams today do not swing the ball to the weakside. This weakside swing forces the goalie to move rapidly to be in position to block the shot.
Low save percentage has another major, but little known, influence on the game. Often when a lefty starts feeding, you will see multiple righties score because you don’t need to be a great shooter to score when the goalie is out of position. Lacrosse is a team sport. When more people score, you will always see better effort from everyone on defense and ground balls. It’s only natural. A lefty feeder is great for team morale.
Defenses are less experienced with the look. How many times have you watched a clear out for a righty alley dodger or a righty sweep dodger? You and everyone including the defense knows exactly what’s going to happen. Sometimes that righty still scores because they are a great player and great players make plays. The problem is that these maneuvers tend to become less efficient as the season wears on, much less in the playoffs. That is one reason why righty dominated teams, no matter how good, sometimes disappoint in the post season. When you get to the Tournament, defenses are more prepared to play these situations.
Is that the case with lefty dodgers who are looking to feed? Again, most defenses unless they grew up in lacrosse hotbeds have not seen this look very often. Even in elite Division I lacrosse, I see poor footwork and anticipation from the defense when a lefty dodges and a series of righties cut to the goal.
A comment I hear from many coaches is, “I play the best available player, and my lefties just aren’t as good as my righties”. It’s hard for a team to improve year over year with this point of view. It’s also not fair. Lefties touch the ball a lot less than because of the way coaches run practice and play games. We expect lefties to score goals before we trust them. It should be the reverse; we should teach them to feed first because it’s both easier to do and more valuable to winning. Here are the long-term benefits to the team of “lefty feeder, righty shooter.”
The following is a very simple look that any youth or high school team can run that should lead to more goals per game.
Last year’s championship game where James Madison beat Boston College was a barn burner. It was a high-scoring game because both teams got tremendous contributions from lefties. Boston College plays classic lefty feeder, righty shooter. James Madison plays a style that I wouldn’t recommend to youth. They scored many goals using a righty to lefty split dodge and shot, which is one of the hardest moves in women’s lacrosse to master.
Who are some of the lefties to watch in this year’s Tournament? Kenzie Kent of Boston College is the prototype lefty feeder and one of the reasons BC was so dominant in the regular season. James Madison has Hanna Haven who leads the team in both goals and assists. Jamie Ortega for Carolina has gone from being a scorer (benefiting from righty feeders) to feeding more this year. That gives a boost to UNC.
As a coach, watch the lefties and count how many goals were from lefties or assisted by lefties. Then look at the count from lefties in righty dominant games. You’ll immediately see why the elite teams score 15+ goals and non-elite are below 10 per game.
As a lefty youth or high school player, remember that you are very important to your team. Hang in there. Keep practicing. Make the case to your coach and players that you should be on the field initiating plays.
As a righty player, practice your left. Also be kind to the lefties on your team. Many of them touch the ball a lot less than you do because so much of the modern game at the youth and high school level has become righty dominant. You need to develop your lefty teammates so that you can score more goals and your team can win more games!
Feeling inspired? Watch NCAA action this weekend and then come play with us!
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Lacrosse dad, enthusiast, player, and writer!
Hyonmyong (Hoch) Cho grew up in inner city Chicago playing pickup basketball, back alley football and stickball. He learned lacrosse at the Groton School where he started for four years as a leftie defenseman for Coach Tom Degray. He was also a three-year varsity player on the football team as a running back and outside linebacker for Coach Jake Congleton. They were both legendary coaches and leaders who won championships despite being at small schools by teaching ART. Hoch attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he was a Morehead Scholar. He most recently coached both boys and girls youth lacrosse teams at The Waterford School in Utah.