Since the 2007 season, National Lacrosse League players have been allowed to dive from behind the goal line and shoot or dunk the ball into the net. What started out as a play reserved for the stars of the game has been adopted by the masses. Although some coaches may frown upon unsuccessful attempts, when performed in the right situations it is actually a high percentage shot. In week 3 we saw the Philadelphia Wings score 3 “Air Gait” shots including one by Drew Westervelt with 11 seconds remaining in regulation to gain the first lead of the night and win 8-7. What might have appeared to some as a heroic last second shot was more of a defensive breakdown in my opinion. The dunk is just too dangerous of a shot to leave someone wide open behind the net, especially at such a critical time in the game.
The goal crease has a radius of 9’ 3”, although behind the goal the crease flattens out so that it is only 5 feet from the goal line. This adjustment to a round crease was presumably created to increase the area for offense behind the goal and without the dive in mind. The closer distance allows players standing flat-footed to be able to dunk without needing any special athletic ability.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the variations of the Dive Shot. The two-handed dive shot is best performed as a back handed wraparound. By this I mean a left-handed shooter reaches around the right pipe of the goalie and vice versa. Casey Powell performed this to perfection while playing for the Titans. John Grant, Jr. popularized the one handed up and over that starts by running behind the cage from left to right. When the goalie adjusts his body and head from the left to right post, you jump up and with the stick held at the butt end with your right hand, reach back up and over the goalie’s left shoulder and dunk the ball on the crossbar. This is the move Westervelt finished the game with two weeks ago coming from the opposite direction. To be fair, we really need to thank Gary and Paul Gait for they invented these variations on a 6 X 6 net and full crease almost 20 years earlier in the field game! As goalies have gotten more used to the dunk, offensive players have evolved to include some sort of deception or fake like a move to one side before coming back to the other.
The fact that the player is behind the goal with the ball can make it difficult for the goalie to see without turning around and compromising his positioning. It is just too much to ask a goalie to cover all three pipes on his own. For that reason, the defense must apply pressure to the potential dunker or at least take some of his options away.
Covering a man behind the cage without the ball compromises a team’s defense. So I teach players to be above the goal line extended but in a position where if the ball is passed to their player behind they can get a stick on them or at least prevent him from dunking on the pipe they came from and the corresponding top half of the crossbar. By forcing the player out his wrong side it allows the ball carrier the chance at a backhanded wrap around. A goalie on the same page as his defender should be able to cover the far pipe and top half of the cross bar. You will see goalies stand up in their crease and lean back to prevent the would be dunker from reaching up and over the cross bar. Although contact from a player in possession of the ball with the goalie in his crease is a crease violation, “incidental contact…by an attacker who is in the act of shooting on a goaltender and makes contact with his body or stick which in no way affects the ability of the goaltender to attempt to make a save or play the ball shall not result in a crease violation provided the ball enters the goal.” (Rule 67.7) If the ball does not go in, the official should whistle the play and give the ball to the defending team.
An effective strategy to set up the dunk involves potential shooters winding up to draw the netminder off the goal line and then passing the ball to a player behind. It is very difficult to get back on the goal line and set up in enough time to prevent the dunk…especially if the dunker is uncontested.
Other situations good for dunking include 6 on 5 and even 5 on 4. In either of these circumstances if a defenseman does go behind to play the man or a goalie becomes preoccupied by an imminent dive, players in front of the cage are set up better to receive the ball back and score from out front.
In the case of the last-second goal by Philly, it was hard to know if the breakdown was a mental one or system based. Teams that are prone to slide and help each other may be more vulnerable to a player slipping behind the goal as an outlet. I like the dive shot and think it is an entertaining part of the game. Although it is not cheap or easy to adjust the lines sewn into the turf, the fact that the crease was designed without the dive in mind makes taking a second look at the distance behind the cage prudent. Even an extra 6 to 12 inches would make the dunk significantly more challenging. Until that happens, teams need to game plan against the dunk or suffer the consequences.A nine-year NLL veteran and former GM and head coach of the Boston Blazers, Ryan also coached Team USA at the '07 WILC and will do so again in 2011 in Prague. To purchase Ryan's Stir It Up DVD click here.
Rate This Story: