FALMOUTH — Flashy scorers get the most attention in lacrosse, just like in many sports.
But this spring, a select group of defenders and long-stick midfielders are changing that dynamic in high school boys’ lacrosse in southern Maine.
Players such as Brendan Hickey at Falmouth, Ben Ekedahl at Cape Elizabeth, Reece Lagerquist at Scarborough and Christian Glover at Brunswick are drawing rave reviews from coaches.
“It’s definitely one of the best years for high-end defensive talent in a long time,” said Scarborough Coach Joe Hezlep. “All four of those guys have the complete game. They can play defense and they are a threat in transition and certainly Christian can score.”
Boys’ lacrosse is a 10-player game with one goalie, three defenders, three midfielders and three attackmen. A team is allowed a maximum of four long poles on the field at one time – almost always a combination of three defenders and one long-stick midfielder. The long poles are 72 inches in length, compared with the 40-to-42-inch models used by the other five position players.
The longer pole gives defenders extra range to wall off a cutting attacker and obstruct shots and a longer reach in a ground-ball battle. But the increased length makes catching and throwing more difficult.
“You’ve just got to work on your stick skills when no one’s watching,” Hickey said.
If a team has a superior long-pole player, “they can dominate a game,” said Westbrook Coach Peter Lyons. “And they tend to be the best athletes on the team.”
Hickey, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior, is regarded as the best defender.
“He’s as close as you’re going to get to a true shut-down defensemen,” said Falmouth Coach David Barton.
Yarmouth Coach David Pearl adds, “I believe he’s the best player in the state.”
Hezlep agrees, no disrespect to his own player, Lagerquist, a senior who plans to play lacrosse at Dartmouth College.
“Hickey is just an absolute stud,” Hezlep said. “His technique is one of the best, if not the best, in the state and also physically he is just a grown man playing with a bunch of boys. In Maine you happen to see a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing attack. If they get matched up with Hickey it’s not going to end well.”
Other top long-pole players include Gorham senior Mat Anderson, Yarmouth senior Patrick Mallett and Falmouth sophomore Riley Reed. The first order of business for any player carrying a long pole is to defend his goal.
“I try to neutralize their better attackman generally,” Hickey said. “And if I can do that, I feel like I’m doing my job. Everything else I do is kind of extra.”
With the top scoring threat negated, the entire team defense becomes exponentially stronger.
“The biggest part of lacrosse is you need to be able to run by someone to make the defense help and if you can’t run by someone then it’s hard in a six-on-six situation to beat the defense,” Hezlep explained. “Usually in Maine the best player on a team is significantly better than every other person on that team. When you neutralize the best player, it makes playing offense very, very difficult.”
“The best way I can describe a shut-down defender is to call them a force multiplier,” said Camden Hills Coach Wade Ward, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps. “That term comes from my military time to explain the effect of a Marine Corps sniper. No one wants to stick their head up. A top defender, what they’re going to do is automatically shut down the other team’s best player and then they can help out the other guys and after awhile, no one wants to go down there. A top defender spreads fear.”
Christian Glover is the long-pole outlier because of his involvement in Brunswick’s offense.
Last season he routinely was the point man in man-up situations while using his long pole, his gloved fingers nimbly climbing up and down the pole to either lengthen or shorten the lever. Glover, a senior who will attend Phillips Exeter Academy for a post-graduate year, scored 28 goals with 13 assists last year.
“But all four of those guys, when they cross the midfield line, the other teams have to be worried about them,” said Cape Elizabeth Coach Ben Raymond. “If teams don’t, then they’re going to run right by them and probably score a goal.
“That’s the added dimension of those guys.”