Luke Graham.

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Luke Graham.

Luke Graham: From coast to coast

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

It was a common conversation that spoke to a point.

Earlier this year, after a Steamboat vs. Summit lacrosse game, I was searching for the Summit head coach. I ended up talking to one of Summit's assistant coaches for at least 20 minutes.

At the end of our conversation, he told me his name was Mike O'Neill (strong Irish name, I thought), and I asked him, "So, you ever play lacrosse?"

He laughed before replying, "Yeah. At Hopkins."

Turns out Mike O'Neill is one of the best college lacrosse players ever.

Four-time All-American, two-time Attackman of the Year, lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, one-time Player of the Year, and Johns Hopkins' - the Duke basketball of lacrosse - all-time points leader.

In hindsight, my question was a little dumb. And embarrassing - like asking Peyton Manning if he ever played football.

But that's the point.

Lacrosse is growing rapidly in Colorado - and west of the Mississippi in general - but it's not just increasing in popularity.

It's rapidly growing in competitiveness.

A huge part of that are the East Coast transplants and czars of the sport spreading the game. Here in Steamboat, we have a well-known high school coach in Bob Hiester and Neill Redfern - a two-time All-American at North Carolina - running the youth program.

Statewide, Kent Denver is ranked 15th in the nation by www.laxpower.com and first among teams west of the Mississippi by www.westsidelax.com.

For the first time ever, three teams from the Western U.S. beat teams in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association - probably the nation's top lacrosse conference. Two of those teams - Cherry Creek and Fort Collins Unified - are from Colorado. Cherry Creek, which beat Loyola-Blakefield, 11-8, on March 29, lost its three previous contests against Loyola-Blakefield by a combined score of 46-8.

Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise. Usually, the next step from growth is improvement.

State titles have been relegated to Front Range teams. But with the introduction of a Mountain League, which includes Steamboat, next year, it's hard to imagine that league not eventually competing with teams like Fort Collins, Cherry Creek, Regis and Kent Denver.

Just how long that takes will be the question.

The guess from this corner is not as long as it took the West to gain on the East. The process speeds up when you have people like Hiester, Redfern and O'Neill guiding the youth.

Even if you don't recognize them at first.

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