By Chad Zimmerman
Dom Starsia is, hands down, one of the nation's best collegiate lacrosse coaches. In his 14 years as head coach at the University of Virginia, the Cavaliers have made it to the Final Four nine times and taken home the big trophy three times, most recently in 2006.
Starsia isn't shy about crediting his program's success to his talented athletes; but he also knows that his players gotta have fierce stick skills. "Stick work is a key component to success in lacrosse, and players with good sticks can always find their way onto the field," Starsia says. "You can greatly improve your stick work by yourself, which might be necessary to improve quickly enough to play at an elite level."
Starsia's simple recipe calls for a ball, stick and brick wall. All you need to do is practice catching the ball from bounces off the wall. He recommends setting specific goals, like catching the ball 100 times right-handed, then left-handed, or 50 times switching hands after each throw.
John Christmas, a member of UVA's 2003 championship team and currently a player for the MLL Boston Cannons, echoes his former coach's thoughts: "Once you get to a top D-I school and into the pros, everyone is going to be fast, strong and quick. So, to distinguish yourself, you have to have a good stick. When I was growing up, anytime my brother or friends weren't around, I'd just grab my stick and throw the ball against the brick wall behind my house for hours at a time."
Both Starsia and Christmas, who was recently named the MLL's 2006 Most Improved Player, recommend picking targets on the wall to improve your throw accuracy. Try an off-color brick, or draw a target with some chalk. "Master the accuracy part of your throws first," Starsia says. "When you can throw a hundred overhand balls, hitting the target every time, and catch and handle the ball, then start focusing on how hard you can throw it."
Distance is another variable you can add to the drill. Starsia recommends moving further away from the wall to work on long-range passes, and closer to focus on throws and catches. If you have a friend who can time you, see how many passes you can make in 30 or 60 seconds. Whatever the distance, focus on the speed at which you can get the ball out of your net. "A lot of players want to have these extended cradles; they think it looks glamorous. But at the very highest level, you need to be able to move the ball as quickly as possible," Starsia says. "It's important to get the ball to the wall fast and get those touches with accurate passing."
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