Stopping the shot on goal at point-blank range with a deft motion of his stick, the goalie lofts a short pass ot the defenseman angling downfield.

The defenseman cradles the ball in his stick twice before spotting a midfielder racing down the opposite side of the field. A cross-field bullet pass is caught neatly by the midfielder without losing a stride.

Seeing the fast break developing, the crease attacksman positions himself just in front of the goal. Another attackman drifts to the right of the goal.

A moment before entering the goal area, an opposing defenseman runs towards the midfielder, hoping to intimidate him enough to force a bad shot or pass. Spotting the open attackman, the Middie rifles a pass to him.

In one graceful motion, the attackman catches the ball just above his right shoulder, turns slightly to his left, and explodes a clean shot into the upper left-hand corner of the goal.

Total elapse time for the play: 18 seconds. The sport: lacrosse.

To fully appreciate the game, one must only recognize two components of lacrosse. The first is the ability of players to pass and catch a 2 1/2-inch ball, using a three to six-foot stick, while running at top speed.

The second is that lacrosse combines the quickness and concentration of baseball with the bone-jarring violence found in football. Lacrosse is a sport that requires finesse, strategy and physical strength to achieve victory, and it is one of the world's older organized sports.

Having its origins on the North American continent, the sport has spread to England, Australia, and Hong Kong. When Canada became a sovereign nation, lacrosse was designated its national sport.

Since the first college game in 1877, which pitted New York University against Manhattan College, the sport has sustained continual growth. The number of colleges and universities that play lacrosse has grown from four in 1881 to 84 in 1965 and reached 168 in 1975-a 100 percent increase in a single decade.

First played by the North American Plains Indians, the earliest known record of the sport dates from 1636. At that time, a French Jesuit missionary used the word "crosse" to describe a game played by the Huron Indians near Ontario. "Crosse" is derived from the French word "crosier," which refers to a long staff resembling a shepherd's crook usually carried by bishops and abbotts as a symbol of office.

The choice of the word was natural since lacrosse sticks at that time were wooden shafts with a netted hook at the far end. The "la" in lacrosse is merely the French noun's feminine article.

Lacrosse was originally played to condition Indian braves for battle. Goals were designated trees 500 yards to one-half mile apart. Teams were tribes consisting of hundreds of braves. Balls were smaller than today's baseball and made of stone, wood, or hides stuffed with animal hair. Players wore only loin clothes and decorative body paint. Contests often lasted for days and defeat sometimes meant death.

Time has changed some aspects of the game. Now, goals are netted sixfoot squares 80 yards apart. Each team consists of 10 players: a goalie, three defensemen, three midfielders, and three attackmen. The ball is made of solid rubber. Players wear plastic helmets with a metal face mask, hockey-style gloves, and often arm pads and small shoulder pads. Uniforms have replaced body paint, although the use of black grease under each eye-supposedly to block the sun's glare-denotes an earlier age. Games are 60 minutes long and defeat only means coming back to play another day.

Often mistaken for butterfly nets, the modern lacrosse stick is from 45 to 72 inches in length, and consists of a metal or wooden shaft and a plastic or fiberglass triangular head laced with rawhide and nylon cord attached to the top of the stick.

A different stick is used for each of the four field positions.

Short sticks with narrow heads are used by attacksmen to ensure maximum manuverability and ball control-essential, since they are the primary scorers. Midfielders, or middies, will use a stick that is somewhat longer than the attackman's, and will have a wider head. This design enables the midfielder to play both offense and defense.

The defense will use the longest stick, often six feet in lengty. The defenseman's responsibility dictates that he intimidate the attackman at the farthest point possible from goal. Lastly, the goalie will have a stick 45 to 50 inches in length and a 12-inch head, the widest in lacrosse. His job is merely to stop the shots on goal, which can range up to 90 miles an hour.

The most striking feature of lacrosse often mentioned by novice lacrosse fans is the seemingly continual "stick flailing" that occurs. Tha obsevation is partially correct. The socalled stick-flailing is called checking and is usually well under control.

Most stick checks are, in fact, little noticed by the players due to their wearing of heavy gloves and arm pads.

Simply stated, a player may use his lacrosse stick to check an opponent's lacrosse stick to checked is the stick, the opponent's hands, or that portion of his arms below the elbow. In addition, the check must be made while the opponent is either in possession of the ball, or within five yards of a loose or passed ball.

The most flagrantly improper checks result in slashing fouls, with the offending player being removed from the game for one to three minutes, depending on the severity of the fould.

Lacrosse is played on a field the width of a football gridiron and 10 yards longer. The two goals are placed 15 yards infield from the center of the end line to permit play behind the goal, as occurs in hockey. The width of the fields is then divided in half to designate offensive and defensive sides. Offsides indicates that the team in possession of the ball has more than the six players allowed in the offensive end of the field.

A 40-year-by-35-yard box that extends from the end line to 20 yards in front of the goal indicates the attack goal area. If the referee feels that the offensive team is stalling, or slowing the game, he will say, "Move it in." This means the offensive team must move the ball into the attack goal area and keep it there unless it loses possession of the ball. The smallness of the goal area makes it necessary to try to score.

A key component of lacrosse is running. The game's 60 minutes of playing time is divided into four 15-minute quarters. A 15-minute break separates the halves. As in hockey and soccer, this places a premium on endurance.

The resulting need to substitute fresh players for tiring ones often lends itself to a scene of mass confusion. Most teams have three or four sets of three-man midfeilds. These midfield teams, as they are called, substitute for one another every three minutes or so. Player substitutions can either be done when play is stopped or while it is in progress.

Another, often confusing, aspect of the game is the man-up, man-down situation. These terms are used interchangeably, depending on whether one is referring to the offensive or defensive team, respectively. The situation occurs when a defensive player commits a personal fould and is removed from the game.

The defensive team must play a man short until either a goal is scored or the defensive team gains possession of the ball and moves it to their offensive goal area. In this penalty situation, a special offensive and defensive unit will enter the game for both teams. In this aspects, lacrosse is similar to football, where special teams with specific roles and abilities play such an important part of the game. CAPTION: Picture, Mike Robinson of Flaps Lacrosse Club clears ball ahead of Alexandria's Clint Emerson. By James A. Parcell-The Washington Post