Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Defensive Midfield Need Not Apply

The All-Ivy League men's lacrosse team was announced today, and Brendan Reilly, Josh Lesko and Charlie Kolkin were nowhere to be found. In fairness, neither were some of the other top players in the Ivy League who all play the same thankless positions.

Reilly, Lesko and Kolkin all play defensive midfield. Reilly and Lesko do it in an even more obscure way, at shortstick defensive midfield.

There have been times this year when Lesko has been Princeton's best player, and he has put up ridiculous stat lines like two goals, seven ground balls and two turnovers against Albany and a goal, a caused turnover and five ground balls against Brown. You could also make a case that for the entire season, Reilly might have played the position better than Lesko. As for Kolkin, he's as good a longstick midfielder as Princeton has ever had.

And yet none of them had a chance. Neither did the other Ivy players at those positions.

The reason is that the All-Ivy men's lacrosse team consists of three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen and a goalie, unless there is a tie for one of the spots. In some ways, this is good, because there are 10 players on the field at any given time and 10 players are therefore honored.

It's not the same in several other sports. Baseball, for instance, will have two starting pitchers, a relief pitcher, a utility player, a designated hitter, a catcher, four infielders and three outfielders. That's 13 players. Softball has all the same, minus a relief pitcher. There are currently 26 young men who can say they were a 2008 first-team All-Ivy League football player.

In men's lacrosse, though, the magic number is still 10.

It's very rare that true defensive midfielders are going to be honored above offensive midfielders who put up huge goal totals (and while we're on the subject offensive midfielders, was there really an Ivy League coach who thought Mark Kovler didn't deserve to be a first-team selection? TigerBlog was shocked to see that Kovler was not a unanimous selection). In the case of an LSM like Kolkin, he is nominated at the midfield position, which makes it even more unlikely that he'd be selected.

TigerBlog can't think of another situation in the league where players are basically exempt from All-Ivy consideration because of their position. If you're the best at what you do in the Ivy League in any other sport, you're going to be All-Ivy. But not defensive middies in men's lacrosse.

And yet you could never have a good team without them. Without Kolkin, Reilly and Lesko, Princeton is not 12-2, the Ivy League co-champion and the fourth seed in the NCAA tournament.

Back in 2001, TigerBlog wrote a feature about Winship Ross, another shortstick defensive middie who came away empty for postseason honors, and asked B.J. Prager, an All-Ivy and All-America attackman, about Ross.

"He makes me feel guilty," Prager said. His point was obvious.

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