Women’s lacrosse grows in numbers, preserves historical roots

Sylvie Luiten

Illustration: Julie Peterson

Originally based off of the Iroquois style of play, lacrosse has evolved significantly over the years from its roots. It has gained widespread national attention as a growing popular sport both in the east and west up to the professional level. Women’s lacrosse today, which lacks significant protective gear and focuses more on mass attack, more closely resembles the original Native American activity than does men’s lacrosse. The game’s popularity, however, seems to be focused primarily in the east, where players begin practicing from a much younger age than on the West Coast. The sport has also taken notably different forms for men and women. For some Native Americans on the East Coast and in the Great Lakes area, lacrosse was often played for ceremonial or ritual purposes as well as to settle disputes within tribes. According to the U.S. Lacrosse participation survey, more than 680,000 players were involved in lacrosse nationally in 2011––a 60,000 member increase since the previous year. More than half of this total comes from young players. On the West Coast, however, athletes tend to come to lacrosse somewhat late in their youths. “With the exception of one or two people [at Whitman] most people start playing in high school unless you’re from the East Coast and have been playing since the age of five,” said senior women’s lacrosse player Monica Paulson. While lacrosse has a more established base on the East Coast, it is beginning to spread more and more throughout the rest of the United States. “Washington’s High School League has doubled or tripled in size since I started playing,” said sophomore lacrosse player Alice Willson. Consistent with this West Coast trend, it is common for college to be the first experience Whitman’s team members have with playing lacrosse. “It’s one of the things that I love most about the sport––it’s not like soccer where you have to have played since second grade to be any good at it. You can pick it up in high school, [and] you can pick it up in college and still be competitive,” said senior co-captain Krista Garrett. Women’s lacrosse rules are constantly changing, and much of the changes are safety oriented. “It’s a very evolving sport, there are sports like soccer and basketball where the rules are pretty set, but lacrosse is changing all the time. Each year they come out with new rules,” said junior and co-captain Annette Patton. As it is a club sport, the success of the Whitman women’s team is based on the commitment of the players. “We have a set-up where we encourage people to come to practice every day and if you want to travel you’re particularly encouraged to come to practice everyday. We welcome people who just want to come to practice once a week,” said Patton. “Our team is really what you make it if you come every day and play on the weekend that’s awesome; but if you want to just come twice a week and throw around, that’s great too,” said Garrett. +

Info graphic: Julie Peterson