Quentin Matsui: The Making of a Shutdown Defenseman


Quentin Matsui was made to be a shutdown defenseman. He just didn’t know it at the time.

Growing up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Matsui played football and lacrosse. As a middle linebacker, he tracked plays by shuffling across the field, prepared to attack at a moment’s notice. He used the same fundamental movements in lacrosse.

Starring at Eden Prairie High School as a close defenseman, Matsui mastered shuffling his feet, surveying the field with his eyes and shifting his hips to change direction — all skills that translated between his two favorite sports.

“As a middle linebacker, it’s all about reading and reacting and not having any bad steps,” he said. “You have to trust your instincts. That translates to lacrosse exactly as I did it in football.”

Now a starting defenseman at Virginia and with the U.S. U21 national team, Matsui stays true to the fundamentals he learned as a youth player.

A crease defenseman next to stalwarts Cole Kastner and Cade Saustad, Matsui finds himself ready for slides and double teams as the third member of a Virginia unit that Georgetown coach Kevin Warne likened to “velociraptors.” Kastner is 6-foot-7 and Saustad is 6-foot-5, dwarfing the 6-foot Matsui, whose flawless fundamentals make up for it.

“It’s awesome to have two guys like that playing at such a high caliber. Playing in a system with that kind of talent around you makes this a lot easier,” Matsui said. “You just have to figure out ways to complement those guys. Because those guys are such good lockdown defenders, I work on sliding and creating double-team opportunities on rollbacks.

“Being able to be in that stance and react quickly to make a decision. That’s the part of the game that I’m working on to complement those guys.”

When Matsui steps out on opposing attackers, he commits to forcing them down the alleys and preventing easy opportunities in the middle of the field. U.S. U21 head coach Nick Myers and defensive coordinator Andrew Stimmel emphasize “showing you’re hot” and applying pressure on the ball carrier.

Matsui works on his posture and balance in practice. Below are three variations to a drill focusing on defensive approach and sliding — all of which require s “butt-down, stick-out, athletic” stance that allows him to approach, creep back toward the crease or “fire” and apply pressure. It’s a stance that Myers and Stimmel call “cheetah.”

Start on an end line and create a triangle with cones 10 yards out on the right and left sides.


As an on-ball defenseman, it’s crucial to approach your opposing attacker and get out to defend as quickly as possible.

In this variation:

Hustle out to the cone (either top right or top left). “In this instance, I’m going to the top right cone,” Matsui said. “I’m a righty, so I use my stick to touch my guy to make sure I know where’s at while I analyze the ball and his hips to see whether I need to slide or not.”

Sit down in a solid, athletic, defensive stance — knees bent, chest out, butt parallel to the ground. If you do have to slide, you can do that quickly because you’re body is low and your feet are activated. Your base is your stance. It’s about finding where you’re comfortable, where you can move either way and still be balanced. Stay on the balls on your feet to maintain balance.

Bracket the cone. Make sure your top foot is above the cone, so you’re splitting the guy. In doing that, you take away the top side if he decides to dodge that way. You are hoping to force him down the alley.


A defenseman needs to be nimble. At times you will apply pressure, but back off the slide when the dodger does not present the same challenge as anticipated.

In this variation:

Show that you're hot by pressuring out on the ball, taking away the top side and forming a balanced, sit-down stance.

If you decide the dodger is not as much of a threat, begin the process of recovery to the middle of the box. Shuffle your feet while maintaining eyes on the attackman. You’re still the hot guy, so you need to be able to slide and react if he dodges.

You can shuffle your feet adjacent to one another, or shuffle them one over the other depending on where the dodger is. Continue to maintain a low and balanced stance, allowing you to shift your body weight quickly.

Repeat this variation for both the left and right sides.


Shuffle forward in the low stance, showing that you’re hot.

This time, you have to go. Get to the cone as fast as you can, but under control. Make sure to maintain your balance and stay on the balls of your feet.

“If I’m breaking down on my defender, I’ll watch his hips,” Matsui said. “A lot of attackmen will give you head and arm fakes, but it’s really hard to fake with your legs. Watching his hips is the best way to make sure you get an initial jam on a guy.”

To end this variation, fire (execute the slide) from one cone to the next. Make sure to continue shuffling your feet as you track your attackman with your stick and eyes.

Most Recent

Kennedy, Ohlmiller Rep Long Island in U.S. Rout of Scotland

Both former Stony Brook stars scored three times in a 20-1 win Friday night.

WWC Day 3 Wrap: Haudenosaunee Among Several Teams to Nab First Win

The Haudenosaunee were joined by Italy, Canada, Wales and Ireland in getting Win 1.

Zoe Martin, 16, a Rising Star for Israel Women's Lacrosse

Martin, a midfielder, leads Israel with eight goals and nine points through two games.

Impressive U.S. Roster a Joy for Fans to Watch

The U.S. women's national team is a sight to behold. Twitter can't stop talking about it.

Twitter Posts