For United States national team coach Sue Stahl, lacrosse is all about one thing: possession.
The U.S. style of play at this week's International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations World Cup certainly reflects that. While many of the other teams in the 10-nation field, especially Australia and Japan, are geared more toward a speed style of the game, the four-time defending champion United States is the master of the settled offense.
"We'll take a fast break if we can get it. If we don't have the fast break, we're going to establish [a settled offense]. Possession is the name of the game, in my opinion," said Stahl, in her fifth World Cup as U.S. coach.
Differences in style have evolved since the women's game was introduced at St. Leonard's School in Scotland in 1890. Each country fashioned its game from its traditional roots, but as the game has spread around the world and international competition grown, teams have borrowed from each other and styles have evolved.
"England, Scotland and Wales play a similar style because it comes from the tradition of their playing from the high schools to the college teams," said Feffie Barnhill assistant to Stahl in the 1989 World Cup and the head coach for Scotland in 2001-02. "The U.S.A.'s style is unique, but I see the U.S.A.'s style growing into and from Canada."
The U.S. style has influenced other teams, especially through Americans coaching abroad. Three Americans are coaching foreign teams in this World Cup: Tracy Coyne for Canada, Denise Wescott for Germany and Kim Chorosiewski for Scotland.
For the United States, where the women's game was introduced at Bryn Mawr in 1926, the offense has evolved into a more deliberate style, spreading the field and trying to draw the defense out to create openings. Australia, the only team other than the United States to win a World Cup, prefers a fast-breaking offense and excels at converting quick passes into tight spaces.
"We just like to play it true to form, just run and gun," said Australia coach Max Madonia. "The U.S. are very controlled. They love possessions, and they're very good stick-handlers."
Barnhill said the men's game has influenced the Australians more than it has the Americans.
"Australia is very much into all 12 get out and run," Barnhill said. "It's a fast break in numbers. They're not looking for two-on-one. They're looking for five-on-four execution, whereas our emphasis is on possession, possession, possession - moving the ball across field, bigger passes to make the defense have to recover different ways and then looking for a two-on-one isolation."
Stahl likes the United States to work the ball from the corners, pulling apart the defense.
"You want space so that when you make your movement, you're going to create an open area that a kid can come into and receive the ball and she has two or three seconds to make her move. If you crowd in, there isn't time and space, once you get the ball, to make any kind of a move without the slides on defense happening," said Stahl, whose team beat the Czech Republic yesterday to advance to tomorrow's quarterfinals.
While established national programs have developed their styles over the years, the newer programs are honing theirs.
Japan has made some changes since the last World Cup to take more advantage of its speed, quickness and athleticism, especially on defense, where it plays a full-field press.
The Japanese had no lacrosse-playing neighbors to copy, so they developed their own, innovative style. New Zealand, playing in its first international event in only its third year as a national team, has a run-and-gun style influenced by Australia.
After competing here without winning a game, New Zealand will continue to adjust its style.
"I'd be interested to see ... what changes they would make for the next four years," said Chorosiewski. "I think that's more important than what they have right now - what they're going to do and how they are going to adjust, because the game will change."
That's the challenge for every team.