With the faster pace of the game due to reduced stoppages in play, midfielders are putting in an extra shift of work every time they step out on the field.
No longer can lacrosse midfielders specialize in one side of the ball. They must be able to transition between offense and defense seamlessly because the time allowed for substitutions is now limited. Instead of a stoppage in play to allow for substitutions, teams now must substitute as the game goes on.
Midfielder Michael Richards, who came off the bench last season and has evolved into a starter this season, said the on-the-fly substitutions have changed the way he plays the game.
“It’s definitely changed my role a lot,” Richards said. “Usually as a defensive middie, like last year I got to come on the field after the horn blew, our offense went off, we went on but this year it’s completely different how quick the ball can come off the sideline and be an attack right at your defense.”
The sophomore, who made 15 sub appearances in his freshman season, has transitioned to focusing on more of the offensive aspects of his game. After registering three shots last season, Richards got on the board early this season with a goal in the Nittany Lions’ 15-12 win over Denver on Feb. 17.
Due to the increased transitional opportunities, Richards must always be looking for the outlet pass when playing defense. Sunday, the midfielder was part of the key sequence that led to Tom LaCrosse’s equalizing goal with 0.6 seconds left against Notre Dame.
“It’s definitely a lot more weight on your shoulders,” Richards said. “You have to go from the defensive end to breaking out and trying to get over the top so then we can push the transition.”
After missing most of last season with an injury, midfielder Kyle VanThof is looking to return to his 2011 form which saw him score eight goals and contribute seven assists in 14 appearances.
So far VanThof has come off the bench in all three of the Lions’ games. He is fifth on the team with 10 shots and has one goal and one assist on the season.
VanThof said his increased offensive production has been due to the ebb-and-flow of the offense.
“It’s how our offense works. Our offensive middies, the first line and the second line going 1, 2 right after one another,” VanThof said. “I wouldn’t say it’s because of the transition but the transition helps us get from defense to offense.”
Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said while he likes the work his midfielders have put in so far, there’s still a lot to learn with the new rules.
“I think they’ve done a good job,” Tambroni said. “We still have a lot of stuff to work on with the changes to the rules where they’re getting caught back after turnovers and shots and saves. We have to do a little bit better job of being two-way middies and getting our offensive guys doing a little better on the defense end. That’s a priority this week.”