Juice Goals, Transition Play and the Importance of Today's LSM

PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE


When Chaos LC’s CJ Costabile scored his second goal in a span of less than 10 seconds against the Archers last Friday night — a tally right off a faceoff that cut his team’s deficit to 11-8 — he wasn’t just spearheading a comeback effort. In the process, he joined an exclusive group that dates back 12 years.

By scoring his third goal of the game, Costabile recorded only the seventh hat trick from a long-stick midfielder in the history of professional lacrosse. He’s only the fifth player to ever accomplish the feat.

“You look at the list, it is certainly an elite group of guys,” Costabile said. “Very, very cool.”

Matt Bocklet kicked things off in 2010 with the Denver Outlaws, a memorable moment for him for more than one reason.

“It was the Mile High Fourth of July, which is always just an amazing night in Denver,” Bocklet said. “It was also the first time that my mom flew out to Denver for a game.”

Since then, Kyle Hartzell, Scott Ratliff, Michael Ehrhardt and Costabile have joined the club. Hartzell and Ehrhardt have the distinction of doing it twice, and, prior to last weekend, Ehrhardt was the only LSM to hit three goals in a game in Premier Lacrosse League play.

Bocklet was unaware of any of this — including that he had the first LSM hat trick in pro lacrosse history — until the PLL tweeted out a graphic detailing the stat earlier this week. He half-jokingly responded by sharing a “you’re welcome” message to the others for paving the way.

When Bocklet first entered Major League Lacrosse, there wasn’t even an LSM position. The league didn’t add a fourth pole to the field until 2009, his sophomore campaign. Thus, he’s seen the development of the pro LSM from the beginning. He played for 11 years, then went on to serve as an assistant coach with the Outlaws in the MLL and the Waterdogs in the PLL.

When he tunes into a game today, he sees those suiting up at his former position possessing a drastically different skillset than the average LSM did in the 2000s.

“I think it’s the most fun position in the sport of lacrosse,” Bocklet said. “LSM started as just a position to have guys be able to cover another team’s top midfielder. It slowly progressed into being able to pick up ground balls, run in transition, create some offense. Some of those guys, Hartzell, Ratliff, Ehrhardt, have really just taken it to another level with the two-point shot.”

An offensive evolution was to be expected given the nature of the professional lacrosse rule book. The addition of a shot clock sped up the game, putting an emphasis on transition play. The two-point arc also pushed the pace, as well as incentivized the risk of a long pole releasing a howitzer from long range.

Shooting with a long pole is a tradeoff, of course. With added power comes decreased accuracy. Figure out the formula, though, and it can be lethal.

“I’m shooting as hard as I can overhand,” said Hartzell, who secured his hat tricks while with Ohio and New York. “I’m bringing the head of my stick down to whatever pipe I want to go to. If it’s a righty goalie, I want to bring it down that left pipe so it’s harder for him to get to. Shooting the ball overhand is the best shot for a long pole in my opinion because it is really hard for a goalie to track.”







Once you show you can shoot the two-pointer, the defense starts to open up. Suddenly, you have more options.

“People come running out at you,” said Ratliff, who entered the club with the Atlanta Blaze but is now with the Archers. “You can face dodge, you can start to move the ball and obviously get a ton of assists and double assists because defenses have to rotate pretty early to protect the arc. It’s a big part of the game. CJ showed that against us. He led that charge in the second half. Not only did he put up all those points, but there were two or three goals created because of us having to adjust.”

That’s all before mentioning the unmeasurable impact of a pole goal.

“I always compared it to like a pick-six in football,” Ratliff said. “Yeah, a long-pole goal is the same amount of points, but there’s also a little bit of an emotional boost that comes with it.”

Bocklet wasn’t alone when it came to early adopters. Ask the members of the LSM hat trick club about their influences and three names pop up often: Brodie Merrill, Kyle Sweeney and Joel White.

Among the most polished when arriving in the professional ranks was Ratliff, who looked up to that trio. He didn’t have the luxury of specializing while growing up in Marietta, Georgia. A player with his abilities was needed all over the field.

When he went on to Loyola, he had the opportunity to work with defensive coordinator Matt Dwan, a former LSM himself. Dwan and then-offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti, now the head coach at Richmond, recognized Ratliff’s skillset and wanted to maximize it.

“They built it into our game plan,” Ratliff said. “It was almost like our D-middie group was the de facto third line midfield from a production standpoint.”

He finished his career with the Greyhounds with 30 goals, a school record for a long pole, in addition to 14 assists in 58 games. By his third MLL season, he was more than a point-per-game player with the Cannons.

An offensive approach with Ratliff was pushed to the limit one season in Atlanta when he was weaved into offensive sets. But don’t think LSMs have just become glorified snipers, either. Scoring goals is just one facet of the job.

“You’re just involved in so many different aspects of the game,” said Ehrhardt, a three-time LSM of the Year winner with the Whipsnakes. “Faceoff, winning possession, the clearing game, the riding game too, and then especially you’re involved in the defensive end and the offensive end. You’re really touching every part of the game at that position. It definitely is one of the more important positions on the field.”

Versatility is the name of the game. A varied skill set used to set you apart from the rest. Now, it is almost required to reach the highest level.

“There was only a couple of long sticks doing what they are doing today,” Hartzell said. “Now, you’re seeing pretty much every team has a long stick that can score in transition. You look at the Chaos, they’ve got two long-stick middies that can put up points.”

Costabile’s opportunity to etch his name into the record books was far from certain. A longtime stalwart on the Chesapeake Bayhawks, he went undrafted in the entry draft following the PLL-MLL merger and found himself in the player pool.

“I thought about retirement basically last year,” Costabile said. “I was in the Maldives with my girlfriend, and I get a call from [Chaos coach Andy Towers]. He goes, ‘Hey, did you hear that we picked you up?’ … The rest is history.”

Since, he’s helped the Chaos to a championship and worked his way back to being an everyday player. His teammate Jarrod Neumann hyped him up this week as being the frontrunner for this year’s top LSM honor.

“CJ is ageless,” Towers said following the Archers matchup. “I mean, the reality is the guy is like Superman. He is just relentless in terms of how competitive he can be.”

That edge has pushed him into elite company at the age of 32. And he’s not done yet.

“You kind of have a chip where you want to prove to people that you still got it,” Costabile said. “I think the PLL, the way the game is designed, I think is helpful for my game as well. Very up tempo, transition, fast-faced, shorter field, two-point line a yard in from where it was in the MLL. I think my skillset is very adaptable to the style of play here.”

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