Posted Online: March 08, 2012, 8:57 pm

Lacrosse 101: Brush up before Augustana home debuts

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By Tom Johnston,

The Augustana College men and women lacrosse teams make their home debuts this weekend – the men tonight at 7 and the women at 11 a.m. on Saturday – in what is being billed as "lax-a-palooza'' at Thorson-Lucken Field with six games over the weekend.

After a couple of years of being a club sport, the Augie men and women are playing as independent varsity teams this spring – the men a 14-date schedule and the women a 18-game slate. Both are off to good starts. The men come into the weekend with a 3-1 record; the women are 3-2.

The teams anxiously are anticipating the first home games in program history as it makes its official collegiate debut in the Quad-Cities. The question is what to expect from the game that is wildly popular out East and growing in the Chicago suburbs.

"We're definitely excited about the opportunity,'' said men's coach Kyle Hart, whose club faces Fontbonne tonight and Alma at noon on Sunday. "There's been a lot of anticipation leading up to this point and there is definitely some excitement involved.''

The women play twice on Saturday -- at 11 a.m. (vs. Fontbonne) and 5 p.m. (vs. Alma).

"We're really excited,'' said women's coach Sara Tisdale. "It's not lost on any of us that there have been a lot of sacrifices and we have had a lot of people stand up and fight for us. We are excited to put out a product that reflects we are upholding our end of the deal.''

Now is the time to gather a fan base. A key to that is educating the potential fans about the game.

"If you like watching basketball, football, hockey, you'll love lacrosse,'' said Tisdale.

This primer should help those out those planning to catch a game this spring.

"One of the things people will figure out is that even though they have the same name, the men's and women's games are very different,'' said Tisdale. "One of the things they'll pick up is the intensity and the speed of the games. The readers who like basketball for the fastbreak and the transition will really be drawn to lacrosse. For the readers who like the physicality of hockey and rugby, they'll get that out of the sport as well.''

The offensive strategy mirrors that of basketball without a shot clock.

"You want to possess the ball and work for high percentage shots, just like you do on the basketball court,'' said Hart. "Defensively, you want to keep teams outside of your candid area and force them to take contested low-angle, low-percentage shots.''

The women play with 12 – a goalie, three defenders, five midfielders and three attackers. The men play with 10 – a goalie, three defensemen, three midfielders and three attackmen.

Another difference is the attire. Women wear the traditional kilt, a jersey and a small face guard that protects eyes and the nose from wayward sticks. The men will be suited in protective gear from head to waist – helmet with face cage, shoulder pads, arm pads and gloves (similar to hockey gloves). Women's goalies get gear similar to the men. Soccer or football cleats are used on the turf that measures 110-yards long by 60-yards wide.

Goalies protect a 6-foot-by-6-foot goal that sits 15 yards in from the back endline. The goal is in a circle in which attackers can not penetrate, but can reach into with their sticks.

Body checking is plentiful and full swings of the stick are allowed to dislodge the ball from a player's possession.

Go to a lacrosse game expecting tough play. Don't go expecting any hockey fights.

"I've got some girls who would duke it out if the opportunity presents itself,'' said Tisdale with a devilish laugh, "but we frown on fighting.''

Another equipment difference is the ball. While it is made of the same rubber material and is the same size, the women play with a yellow ball and the men a white one.

Both games last 60 minutes. The men's games are split into 15-minute quarters and the women's games are played in 30-minute halves. Games will last roughly 90 minutes to two hours. The game clock stops after goals and on delayed penalty calls. There is no "extra time'' as in soccer.

Scoring-wise, the games of each gender are similar with seven to 15 goals a side per game being a reasonable range, the coaches say.

Both coaches agree that the game is for athletes.

"If you can run, you can play,'' said Hart. "You can be tall or short, but you need athletic ability to play the game.''