Old-school laxers know the new game
VAIL – At first, the shiny helmets and ultra-light sticks give the appearance of a high school or college lacrosse game. But then the one player trots onto the field with the vintage 1980s helmet and a pair of gloves nearly devoid of palms. And that’s when you know the guys are in the Master’s Division of the Vail Lacrosse Shootout.The players may have been in college 15 and 20 years ago, but they’ve embraced all the new equipment lacrosse has to offer.”It’s different all across the board,” said Taylor Erickson. “When we played in high school, we had only Brine and STX, and that was it. Now you’ve got a proliferation of manufacturers and have new (stick) head designs every year.””My buddy just set me up with a brand new stick and gloves,” said Paul Ramirez. “(Before) I had my 7 or 8-year-old equipment. These guys are all using the latest and greatest. Now, I’m up to snuff.”
Even if there weren’t the rogue player with the old-school gear, you can still figure out that some of the hair under the helmets has a touch of grey. Equipment may mask age, but playing styles don’t.”The game has changed,” Ramirez said. “Back then, the game was dominated by larger people. Now, you are going to get people of all different sizes. You get a lot of smaller players who are very effective. The skill has increased incredibly. There’s so much lacrosse now. Everyone is good. Back then, there used to be the stars and the staples.”And it’s not just that the game has changed at a younger level – wisdom and experience help the Masters tailor their game for maximum efficiency.”From an individual side, in high school you’re totally tunnel vision,” Erickson said. “You’re over excited about what’s going on. You get the ball and you’re going for it, and that’s it. You get older, like up here, and everyone is so experienced. If they get double teamed, they know it means someone is open, and they immediately find that guy. Worst case, they throw it to the goalie and work it back up. It’s a very mature game. Nobody wants to overrun like in high school.”More skill?It seems like every year, the players get better and better.”I was lucky because I had an older brother, and I thought if I could teleport back in time and play with him, I would smoke all those guys,” Erickson said. “Now that I think about it, if (the younger) guys could teleport back, they’d obliterate us. They are so much smarter, so much better and (play) two-handed. The fundamentals are there.”
The increased skill level has changed the way teams attack and defend.”I would say the style has gone from setting up a feeder or shooter to clearing out players for an iso(lation) move,” said Jeff Maxim.”In the elite game, everyone is going to be good and able to score and be effective,” Ramirez said. “That’s the change in the game. Before you had more positional players. Now it’s more like you get the six down on the field, and they are deadly. There are no weak links.”And there seems to be a trickle-down effect from the skilled players.”These great players who grew up typically had coaches who didn’t play lacrosse, but were great recruiters and organizers,” Erickson said. “Now you are getting these amazing All-American players who have gone through the system and are coaching, and there’s a lot more strategy about it.”Still the sameWith all that’s changed in the equipment and style, the faces remain the same.
“Tim Goldstein is out here, isn’t he? On no way! There he is. I haven’t seen him since Cornell,” Maxim said of a fellow Cornell alum.Goldstein was one of several All-American players to grace the field Saturday on the first day of the Master’s tournament.For players like Ramirez, who grew up in upstate New York watching some of the guys he’s going to face in the tournament, lacrosse has come full circle.”When I was in high school, we thought these guys were sick,” Ramirez said. “We drove up to Cornell and Syracuse to watch them do behind-the-back shots. And they are still out here now.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.