Through Their Eyes: Lacrosse gains popularity on campus

Libby Watkins

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Lacrosse players at a recent practiceThe westward surge of lacrosse that has occurred over the past decade has hit Whitman and left in its wake men’s and women’s club programs that are rapidly attracting new players.

While neither program has become a varsity sport, the presence of the teams on campus and their role in the Whitman athletic scene is not to be belittled.

“The only thing that really separates us from varsity sports is the fact that our sport is not sanctioned by the school,” said sophomore Sunn Kim about the men’s team. “Other than that, we begin practice at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and end when our coach [David Schmitz] decides to end practice.”

The student-coached women’s team also has daily practices, which junior captain Hailey Flanigan said become more intense each year. Much of this has to do with the influx of experienced players in the program.

“We used to get only seven people showing up to practice,” Flanigan said. “This year we’ve been getting 26.”

These numbers, indicative of the growth of the sport, mean the Whitman women can select a traveling team to play at away tournaments. This selection will be based primarily off of commitment.

“We want to privilege people who are dedicated,” Flanigan said.

The men’s team currently boasts 21 players, but welcomes players who are interested in the sport to come out and play.

A Whitman Lacrosse playerConsistently a dominant force in the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League (PNCLL), the Whitman men have gone to their division playoffs every year since 1995. In a preseason poll, the team was ranked second in their league, which is made up of smaller schools in the Pacific Northwest who have men’s club lacrosse programs. The teams play games most weekends, similar to varsity sports.

Kim says that there is a possibility of lacrosse becoming a varsity sport here at Whitman, but the process will take a few more years.
“In order to become a Division III team we would need all the teams in our division to add lacrosse as a varsity sport,” explained Kim.

On the women’s side, the situation is a different one; there is an existing varsity women’s lacrosse league in the Pacific Northwest and California that Whitman could enter if it chooses. The athletic department talked of making the switch, but for now it will stay as a club sport. Flanigan, however, noted that the athletic department has made attempts to set up a tournament with these varsity teams sometime in the near future.

As for the league in which the women play currently, the Northwest Women’s Lacrosse Association (NWWLA), the teams range from strong club programs that exist under varsity programs, like that at the University of Oregon, to brand new programs like that of the College of Idaho. All teams in the league play in weekend tournaments, rather than regular games.

Whitman hosts the biggest tournament of the year, the Sweet Onion Shootout. Initiation for freshmen is the week leading up to the tournament, which the team uses as an opportunity to advertise and try to reach out to the student body and assist the growth of the sport.

“It’s a pretty laid-back league,” Flanigan said. “Last year at Sweet Onion, some team wanted to do boat races for extra points.”
However, there are some intense teams in the league, and as Whitman continues to increase emphasis on fitness and efficiency at practice, they hope to see their hard work translated into success.

This year, the Sweet Onion Shootout will be held the weekend of Mar. 7, which will be the only home games of the women’s season. The men have their first home games against Western Oregon University and Willamette University on Feb. 21 and 22, respectively.

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