Stick stringing plays a hidden key role for Syracuse

first_img Published on April 3, 2017 at 11:03 pm Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschweds Sergio Salcido expected a regular day shagging balls and handing out water bottles as Winter Park (Florida) High School’s ball boy, but 10 minutes before a rivalry game a defender, Mike McKeever, called on the then-middle schooler for a skill far more valuable.The sidewall stringing in McKeever’s stick had ripped, and he didn’t know how to fix it. So, he ran to the eighth grader.“I’m sitting there,” Salcido said, “cranking this thing out a minute before the game starts.”McKeever guarded one of the best midfielders in the state and scored a goal later in the game. Salcido helped make it possible. The redshirt senior is one of several players who strings sticks on No. 2 Syracuse (7-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast), continuing a long SU tradition. But as lacrosse continues its rapid growth and equipment trickles into sporting goods stores nationwide, standardized sticks and strings have pushed out elements of nuance.“It’s a lost art,” SU head coach John Desko said. “It’s a real niche, if you know how to do it.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse, a school sponsored by Nike and STX, is lucky to have a number of stringers. Tyson and Brendan Bomberry, Nick Mariano, Salcido, Ben Williams and David Lipka each string differently: The Bomberry cousins know a traditional leather style taught in their Native American upbringing. Mariano aligns his strings so the ball smacks off the plastic head when he shoots. Salcido likes his pocket in the middle of his stick so the ball doesn’t jiggle around. Williams uses a softer mesh and doesn’t have a “channel” — the pinching of the mesh that causes more direct throws — so it’s easier for him to scoop the ball on faceoffs. Williams doesn’t use a head made by STX or Nike because his position requires one with particular flex points. Upperclassmen who care less about the netting usually assign the task to Lipka, a freshman who had to learn to string SU sponsors’ sticks because he hadn’t previously specialized with them.Ally Moreo | Photo EditorEach of the stringers understands the importance of his job. It’s a facet of the game rarely discussed outside of lacrosse circles and almost invisible to the fan, but stick prep is key.“It’s a huge deal the way your stick is strung,” Lipka said. “… I can’t even express how big of a deal a string job is.”Typically, attacks play with a pocket lower down in the head to better carry the ball. Midfielders often use a mid-to-high pocket while defenders tend to use a high pocket. But based on a player’s style, a stringer can identify the most suitable pocket per player. Lipka noticed redshirt freshman attack Stephen Rehfuss passed with a quick release and an over-the-top motion, as well as carry the ball high in his stick. So, when Lipka strung Rehfuss’ stick, he wound a high pocket with a smooth release and no “whip,” which describes the angle the ball leaves the head. More whip and the ball will travel downward when thrown — less whip and it’ll sail.Derek DeJoe, a Syracuse midfielder from 2013-16, had a similar reputation as Lipka his freshman year. He wanted to keep his stringing skills a secret “because you don’t want to be the guy.” Once word got out, DeJoe strung as many as six sticks a night. By the time he was a senior, he started telling people he no longer strung sticks.Emma Comtois | Digital Design EditorDeJoe learned how to string from his dad. Salcido, from a knowledgeable neighbor and an STX stringing manual. Lipka, by constantly copying patterns from teammates’ sticks. He’s settled on the same style as Mariano. They can all complete a stringing job in about 20 minutes, down from hours when they began learning.“You can tell who strings sticks and who doesn’t string sticks based on how they treat their stick. It’s a lot of people’s baby,” DeJoe said. “… It’s a piece of art. The people that don’t string their sticks, they’ll hang it in their locker and go on with their day.”Some Syracuse players, freshman Logan Wisnauskas said, place their sticks upright in their locker only because upside down sticks would cause the future goals to drop out overnight. Others refuse to put it underneath the team bus because they want an eye on it at all times.Lipka has experimented with others’ sticks throughout the year as he’s emerged as the Orange’s go-to stringer. Lipka plans on redshirting this season, so he’s found another way to contribute. Wisnauskas, the “test bunny,” gives Lipka feedback. When redshirt senior Joe Gillis scored on March 25, Lipka knew he played a small role in the goal.“Usually you find a freshman who does it,” Salcido said of non-stick stringers. “‘You got nothing better to do, here you go.’”The hardest part of stringing for others, players said, is learning their tendencies. Stringing for yourself is easy because you already know. But, especially for a freshman like Lipka, it’s hard to know who wants what.“There’s no other sport where the gear differs so drastically from person to person,” said Greg Kenneally, president and co-founder of East Coast Dyes, a company that sells stringing equipment. “There literally isn’t a stick that’s identical to another … It just adds an extra element of customization.”Two years ago, an NCAA rule change eliminated the use of the “U” shaped shooting strings, forcing every player to use horizontal shooting strings. The new stringing decreased the sticks’ hold on the ball and increased turnovers. The struggle only worsened in the elements, which also alter sticks and add another challenge for stringers.During an outdoor practice last week, Lipka didn’t bring his main stick because he feared rain would damage its condition. He didn’t want the pocket to “bag out.” When the pocket stretches, it loses its grip on the ball while cradling and throwing accuracy is diminished because of the lack of control. Lipka instead used his rain stick, one of his three or four backups. Many of his teammates have a similar arsenal.Emma Comtois | Digital Design EditorLipka’s rain stick has less of a pocket and less of a channel for the ball to hook when the mesh gets heavy. He tightens the nylon string at the top of the head so the ball rolls off easier. With a regular string job, the pocket would expand and likely get crusty once inside. It’s a cost of playing in the wet conditions made tolerable by playing with a secondary stick. While rain expands mesh, cold weather contracts it.“You have to adapt to those elements,” DeJoe said. “You’re playing a game where it’s sunny in Virginia and then you come home in early February at Cornell, your stick’s definitely going to be tightened up. It’s definitely going to be different.”As lacrosse spreads from traditional hotbeds, fewer lacrosse-specific stores are in places where the game is being played. And, in turn, fewer people with strong stick-stringing skills. At the youth level, Desko and Salcido pointed out, poorly strung sticks can lead to poor fundamentals. At the same time, online stringing manuals and YouTube tutorials have helped educate aspiring stick stringers.“Some people relate it to tying your shoe,” Kenneally said. “It’s definitely not that easy. You’re basically taking a rectangular piece of mesh and trying to fit it into a circle frame and create a pocket all at the same time. It’s not perfectly intuitive.”Still, a stick doesn’t make a player. There’s a common phrase among lacrosse players: “It’s not the wand, it’s the magician.”But a magician isn’t a magician without his wand. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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