Luke Graham: Still room to grow
April 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Lacrosse in the West has been a fluid situation.
There's no question the sport has grown rapidly during the past 20 years out here in the mountains and on the coast of California.
There are countless established high school programs. In Colorado alone, Regis Jesuit was ranked No. 10 nationwide and Cherry Creek was No. 23, as of Sunday, according to the Coaches-Computer Rating list on http://www.laxpower.com.
For fun, Steamboat Springs High School was 253rd on that list Sunday.
The rankings show the power of lacrosse in the West, and Steamboat gives a great little sample. It's tough to cruise across town and not see at least one group of young people carrying lacrosse sticks and a ball.
Steamboat Youth Lacrosse is as strong as ever, and the high school program continues to close the gap between it and more established programs on the Front Range.
The gap is closing enough that Aurora's Grandview High School — which Steamboat plays today — sent coaches up to scout Steamboat last weekend against Rock Canyon. Unfortunately for those coaches, they didn't realize the game had been moved to Denver because Rock Canyon couldn't make the commute.
But the question still remains: How much has the game out west caught up with the game back east?
It's not hard to see that the West still is behind. But it's getting closer.
But where lacrosse in the West still lacks is at the collegiate level.
There's a total of 282 NCAA collegiate lacrosse programs in the country, across divisions I, II and III. That total doesn't count club teams, which it seems just about every school has. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University are top 20 mainstays at the club level.
But of those 282 teams, only nine are west of the Mississippi. That number will go to eight next year, when Grand Canyon College drops its program.
That's a startling number. Like it or not, lacrosse in the West won't catch up to the East until more programs are added.
But adding a program costs money and with education budget shortfalls, it's tough to ask to start a new program.
That's why what's happening at Mesa State College and Adams State College is among the most intriguing developments in lacrosse. Both schools started Division II lacrosse programs this year.
The duo's commitment to lacrosse is interesting in more than one way. The two could become major players in Division II lacrosse within the next four years.
They fill a niche and offer opportunities to players who aren't quite Division I caliber, or who don't want to play Division III lacrosse.
They have the entire West to recruit from. They aren't competing with the hordes of East Coast schools for players.
Imagine, in five years, one of the two competing for a national championship.
Whether schools attempt to add programs remains to be seen.
But that's part of the beauty of the game. Lacrosse out this way is past its infancy and now in its teenage years. It has a fluidity that means the game will grow.
Until colleges find ways to add programs, though, lacrosse in the West always will fall behind.