It’s 3:30 p.m. after school, and the lacrosse players head out to the field to warm up for their game. But this isn’t just any match-up: it’s the annual girls vs. guys Redwood lacrosse showdown. Nearly every year, the two varsity teams square up for the Switch Sticks game, where the players use the equipment of the other gender in a game that accentuates the difference between the way girls and boys play the sport.
It’s a common misconception that because both of the sports are called “lacrosse,” the rules and the strategies must be the same. In reality, the two versions of the game are worlds apart.
According to junior Luke Elders, a midfielder on the boys’ varsity team, one of the biggest differences that separates the two sports is the level of physicality that players employ.
“In guys’ lacrosse, we have pads so we can hit each other pretty frequently and be very physical. We can slash with our sticks, even though it’s probably less physical than football,” Elders said. “The funniest thing about girls’ lacrosse is they have more [technical calls], and when the whistle blows they all have to drop their sticks so they remember where to go.”
Junior Bella Bertaud, a defender on the girls’ varsity team, echoed this idea by explaining the tighter regulations that girls have in terms of how aggressive their sport allows them to be.
“Girls can’t hit each other with their sticks, they can only check the other player’s stick. We can make contact, but even then it’s not powerful contact, it’s just getting up in their faces a little bit. You can’t go in their sphere, which is the imaginary space their head occupies,” Bertaud said.
Senior Devon Cusack elaborated on the strict rules in place for girls regarding how they use their sticks on opposing players.
“The guys wear helmets to protect their heads, but the girls don’t, so in our games the refs are really conscious about getting sticks near our faces. For that reason we have calls like ‘stick in the sphere’ and we get them a lot,” Cusack said.
A “stick in the sphere” call refers to when a defensive player gets their stick too close to the attacking player’s face, entering the invisible bubble around their head, or the “sphere.”
The regulations that the girls adhere to makes the strategy be
hind their offense much different than that of the boys, further contributing to the contrast between the two versions of the sport.
“With girls’ lacrosse, their main strategy is to move the ball around as fast as possible because they can’t go and shoot it in front of another girl’s face, which makes it more easily defendable,” Elders explained. “In guys’ lacrosse you have more dodges and we’re usually trying to draw a few guys and then find the open guy.”
Another key distinction that sets boys’ and girls’ lacrosse apart is the depth of their sticks. While the boys wield sticks with deep pockets to avoid the ball falling out when they make contact, the girls have much shallower pockets that require a different set of skills to keep the ball in the stick. The Switch Sticks game brings to light the contrast between the two types of equipment.
“The guys have a lot more trouble handling the girls’ sticks because they’re used to doing tricky moves with their sticks, and the ball won’t fall out, but it does when they try that with the girls’ sticks,” Bertaud said.
At the same time, it can be equally difficult for the girls to get accustomed to the deep pockets that their male counterparts play with. The transition from a shallow pocket leads the girls to have trouble figuring out a proper trajectory for their passes.
“When we switch sticks, the girls end up throwing really low which makes it hard to connect passes to our teammates,” Cusack said. “When you throw with a boys stick you have to aim upwards, which is the opposite for girls.”
The vast differences between the two approaches to the sport lead both teams to have a great time challenging one another in the Switch Sticks game, with each side enjoying and struggling to play with the new equipment.
“I’d say they’re two different sports. Guys’ lacrosse is more closely related to those physical sports like hockey,” Elders said. “They aren’t very similar, it’s a totally different game.”
This year’s 2018 Switch Stick game took place on Tues., May 22.