Game Ready: Off-Ball Defense with Katie Detwiler
How Katie Detwiler stays on the ball — even when she’s playing off ball.
This article appears in the September/October edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.
Since 2019, Katie Detwiler has been a badge of honor and a source of frustration for elite offensive players.
An All-American defender and three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, Detwiler headlined a Loyola unit known for its lockdown play. The Greyhounds finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense in three of her four full seasons.
Detwiler’s prowess made her the second overall pick in the Athletes Unlimited College Draft. She's hard to miss when defending a ball carrier. But she takes as much pride in her off-ball play, and she stresses it to the young players who look up to her.
“Some girls get stuck being a little lazy being off ball,” Detwiler said. “When you grow up and get to the higher levels, off ball is where a lot of the movements take place. You may think your attacker isn’t doing anything because she doesn’t have the ball. But that may be what the play is set for.”
Detwiler shared these as her six tips for off-ball defense.
It starts with body positioning.
“Wherever the ball is, make sure you are square with your attacker between her and the goal and her and the ball,” Detwiler said. “You want to be in the best position so that if she gets the ball, you can play 1-v-1 defense, block the shot or get a deflection.”
STICK IN THE LANE
When the ball is behind or up top, always have your stick in the passing lane. “If your girl is cutting through, you want to make sure you have your stick matching her stick,” Detwiler said.
Otherwise you risk getting backdoored.
HEAD ON A SWIVEL
Another way to guard against a backdoor cut: Alternate looking at the ball carrier and your attacker. “Don’t completely neglect your player,” Detwiler said.
COMMUNICATE EVEN If YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY
Detwiler said young players, in particular, struggle with communication. It was important to her success at Loyola.
“You’re always adjusting, making sure if the ball is low, you’re in a different position. If you’re on the left side, you’re in a different position,” Detwiler said.
In the case of defense, it’s better to say something than nothing at all — don’t overthink it.
“Crash,” “she’s coming” and “switch” are three verbal prompts Detwiler suggests using around your teammates.
“Being able to be loud is something that helps you differentiate yourself,” Detwiler said. “A lot of girls don’t know what to say, so they don’t speak up. Anything is helpful. It keeps you aware of what is happening and them too and gives others the confidence to speak up.”
ANTICIPATE BALL MOVEMENT
Though you always want to be ready, Detwiler says your player will unlikely get the ball unless she’s one or two passes from the ball — anything further is dangerous. When your player is one or two passes away, you’ll want to get ready to pivot without losing sight of the task.
“In that help position, be just a little more ready to also help nearby defenders in case they get beat,” Detwiler said. “But you also want to be farther out so that if your attacker catches the ball, you are ready to be in 1-v-1 defense.”
Detwiler was known for being a playmaker and superhero stops on the defensive end. But her less heralded, off-ball plays were just as important if not as noticeable.
It’s easy to lose focus when your player doesn’t have the ball, but maintaining it is essential.
“You want to be able to stop a girl from making something happen or making her less dangerous to an overall play,” Detwiler said. “That is what is going to be most important. As long as you are competing and hustling, you are going to stand out.”