As a lifelong lacrosse fan, I’m really grateful to be living during this time of the growth of the sport.
I came up in a time where Division 1 NCAA lacrosse had come out of the nineties and was starting to gain traction as a sport that’s more widely recognized. While I was in middle school, Syracuse won two national titles, Virginia won the other one, and Navy shocked the lacrosse world by riding the well deserved 2 seed all the way to the title game and giving the last Syracuse team to have a Powell on the roster a run for their money in what is now considered one of the best championship games ever played.
While I was in high school, we saw an undefeated Hopkins national championship team where Kyle Harrison and Paul Rabil ran on the same midfield line. We also saw Matt Ward lead UVA to another ring in 2006 alongside Kyle Dixon, Danny Glading, and Ben Rubeor. Matt Danowski and Zack Greer gave a new meaning to the term “dynamic duo” in 2007, but fell one goal short of locking up Duke’s first championship against Jesse Schwartzman’s Hopkins squad. Syracuse’s incredible trio of Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt, and Kenny Nims powered the Orange to their third title of the decade in 2008. Exactly one year later, Cody Jamieson capped off the furious OT comeback against Cornell to secure the Orange’s fourth title in the 2000s.
For those keeping score at home, there were four schools that won national titles from 2000-2009. Syracuse, Princeton (just before my time), Virginia, and Hopkins. This is the landscape that NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse had been used to for years, it seemed.
Then, in 2010, everything started changing.
“Clean win by Costabile. Charging towards the net! He scores!! It IS a storybook ending for the Duke seniors with their first national championship in school history!”
I’ll never forget that broadcasting call as long as I live.
As a lacrosse fan that watched the 2000s unfold both in stadiums and on my television set, I understood that the sport had changed possibly forever the moment C.J. Costabile’s shot hit the net just five seconds into overtime in the 2010 National Championship game. With a brand new champion, it was now anybody’s game. After all, Duke had to get past unseeded Notre Dame that day, who was playing in their program’s first national title game. Where were top recruits going to start playing, now that the playing field started to look more level?
After Steele Stanwick’s UVA squad won it all the following year, Loyola got their program’s first title in 2012 thanks to top tier talent like Eric Lusby and Josh Hawkins. Later that fall, Myles Jones and Deemer Class showed up in Durham, N.C., and became the Duke lacrosse program’s poster boys by late March. By Memorial Day 2014, the pair of sophomore midfielders had already repeated as national champions, bringing Duke their second and third titles in program history.
In 2015, the trophy finally moved west of the Mississippi with Denver finally knocking down the door they had been pounding on for years, doing so under the same Bill Tierney that built Princeton’s dynasty in the 90s. 2016 saw North Carolina shake off a 25 year title drought in dramatic fashion, and we all just witnessed Maryland win their first title since 1975 – over Ohio State, no less!
That’s three programs getting their first ever titles, and two classical powerhouses that last won titles in bucket helmets finally returning to glory in a span of just eight years. No titles for Syracuse, Princeton, or Johns Hopkins yet this decade. What has changed between the last two decades?
As any lacrosse coach will tell you, it all starts in the youth programs. As interest generates in communities across the country, the diamonds in the rough – the great players that emerge from non-hotbed areas – return home to coach youth programs, club teams, high schools, and even new college programs.
As the quality of coaching increases, the talent follows suit. Kids then start to see the older teens in their town playing and having fun, prompting them to ask for a stick for their birthday. And just like that, a new star is born.
The ball has been rolling this way since the turn of the century. USLacrosse reports that there were a total of 253,931 lacrosse players of all ages in the country in 2001. By 2010, that number had more than doubled to 624,592. In 2016, we had 826,033 kids with sticks in their hands. With lacrosse exploding and new NCAA programs now being added every year, all of these kids need places to combine their talents. Princeton and Virginia, all of a sudden, aren’t getting every last unreal young player anymore. That’s why we finally saw Loyola, Denver, and Duke raise trophies this decade. Also, all of this is not to mention the massive growth in MCLA lacrosse, where both coach and player caliber is skyrocketing.
There’s no doubt that influence of the game is growing upward and outward from hotbed areas and perennial powerhouse programs. States like Indiana, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Georgia are now well represented at the D1 level by Notre Dame, Marquette, Furman, and Mercer respectively. This means more home-grown talent starts to stay home as well as recruit star players from other states during high school club lacrosse.
What will we see in the next 10 years? Will we hit a million players by 2020? Who will be the first school with a FBS football team to add D1 lacrosse since Michigan? Which MCLA teams will lead the varsity revolution (looking at you, Utah)?
Only time will tell. It really is a great time to be a lacrosse fan, and it’s an even better time to be a lacrosse player of this generation. These young players are growing up in the best, most well-developed lacrosse scene the world has ever had. Ultimately, these players will shape the lacrosse landscape going forward, and decide where our game goes next. With all this, I’m proud to say that our sport is in good hands.