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Jesse Hubbard is one of the most decorated players in all of lacrosse. He won three NCAA Championships with Princeton, was a three-time All-American in college, was a five-time MLL All-Star and won a World Lacrosse Championship with Team USA.
Oh, and he knows his equipment. So we thought we’d talk to Jesse about all-things lax. In part one of a three-part series, today we discuss the pocket. With so much experience in the sport, Hubbard is an expert on stringing your spoon. Since Hubbard used traditional leather for much of his career before switching to mesh several years ago, we thought we’d get his take on how pockets have evolved and have him chime in on the mesh vs. traditional debate.
How has mesh evolved over the years?
Ten to fifteen years ago, the choice was either soft mesh (uncoated) or hard mesh (coated). These days, most players prefer mesh that is somewhere in between. There are many different names for this type of moderately coated mesh. “Dura,” “ultra,” and “mid” are some of them. The coating provides friction and also holds the pocket’s shape but is soft enough to break in quickly and stretch during ball handling. Although many more coating options have been introduced, the basic construction of the mesh piece itself has not changed much since it effectively rendered leather pockets obsolete a decade ago. “Wide”, “Monster” or “6-Diamond” are some types of mesh with larger holes and, thus, fewer diamonds than traditional mesh; but the craze for these mesh pieces seems to have died down a little—although loyal users still exist. The specialists who know how to string mesh to maximize “hold” have had a greater influence on the game than the mesh itself. The U-shaped (or V-shaped) shooting strings allow mesh pockets to hold the ball much more securely, and the stick doctors who string up the best mesh pockets have learned how to shape the mesh so that the top stays very tight and the middle of the pocket stays deep.
Was it ever strange for people to use mesh in the early 90s?
People used mesh in the early 90’s, but it was usually soft mesh. You had to dip it in mud and let it dry to get it to stiffen up. I would say at the highest college level most of the better players used traditional, but there were some exceptions. Feeding attackmen like John Zulberti and Dennis Goldstein used mesh, but power-cradling midfielders like the Gait brothers, Ryan Wade, and Rob Shek used traditional leather. Leather pockets allowed for a more powerful shot and better ball retention for two-handed cradlers. Attackmen who cradled vertically could still retain the ball in mesh since the ball sat so low in the pocket. When players started switching from soft mesh to hard mesh, they realized that once the pocket was broken in, it provided a “hold” similar to traditional without the headache of maintenance and broken leathers. Mark Millon was known for using a mesh pocket that was deep and very stiff, which allowed him to have a quick, powerful release. The friction between the ball and his mesh was the key. Add to that the introduction of the U-shaped bottom shooting string, and hard mesh pockets took off in popularity.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing with mesh?
A mesh pocket is much easier to string and break in. And once it is broken it, it is more consistent and tends to last much longer than a leather pocket. I have used the same mesh pocket the past 3 years, whereas I would be lucky to get half of a season with leather. Passing accuracy is much better with mesh, and cradling is probably easier with mesh.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing with traditional?
I always thought that I got a better windup and release with a leather pocket when shooting. I could feel the ball’s release in my hands and could control the ball’s placement with my wrist snap. But passing with traditional is less consistent than passing with mesh. With traditional pockets, every now and then the ball either sails high or goes into the ground, especially if the conditions are wet or muddy.
Does the pocket make the player?
The pocket definitely does not make the player, but since it’s his instrument it must be fine-tuned to maximize his performance. If a great guitarist played with an out-of-tune guitar, he would probably struggle to impress his audience. If a guitar novice played with a finely tuned guitar, it wouldn’t make much difference.
Should everyone know how to string a stick, whether it is mesh or traditional?
It’s not essential that you know how to string a stick, but you better know someone who can do a good job. Having the ability to adjust your stick is helpful when you run into a last-minute pocket emergency, so you should at least know the basics. Most lacrosse specialty stores offer excellent and affordable custom stringing. Stringing traditional is a lost art, but there are still those who practice the art to perfection. Finding good leathers and pocket lace can be a challenge as fewer stores supply them.
This is PART I of a three part interview with Jesse Hubbard. Check back tomorrow when we talk to Jesse about some of his influences, how he likes to string his stick, and why he made the change from traditional to mesh.
Check out the Hubbard Experience to learn how you can step up your game.