Established and celebrated in other parts of the country, fast-moving lacrosse has taken root in the Northwest, where it is catching the attention of local youth.
A growing number of young players is beginning to pick up the stick, local coaches say, fueling a drive for more teams and fields.
Auburn is getting more into the game, following the footsteps of successful programs at Lake Tapps and other teams sprinkled on the neighboring plateau.
More than 90 high schools throughout the state are playing lacrosse today. Auburn Riverside became one of the latest schools to join club-recognized play when coach Lou Lucchesi, a local lacrosse coaching original, established a boys squad in 2015. The Lake Tapps Lacrosse Club, which Dan and Beth Lancaster started and Lucchesi supported, grew into one of the largest of its kind in the South Puget Sound area, and, for years, used youth club talent to feed the powerhouse program. The Lake Tapps team was composed of comprised of Auburn, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley and Enumclaw players.
But with that kind of success and rapid growth came the splitting up of the Lake Tapps program, leading Lucchesi to Auburn Riverside with new possibilities and a similar approach.
Knowing the sport needs a solid foundation from which to grow, Lucchesi and supporters formed the Auburn Youth Lacrosse Club this year. The group hopes to attract more boys and girls – kindergarten to the eighth grade – to lacrosse come spring.
“We’re not even scratching the surface with all the Auburn schools,” said Lucchesi, the director of coaching on the boys side of the new club. “For years, we always talked about starting Auburn Youth Lacrosse. This is the perfect time to do that.
“The numbers … the pool is definitely there,” he said. “It’s just getting the awareness, letting people know about us.”
An aggressive campaign is underway. The timeline means a winter registration period, followed by organized practices in February and games in March.
Kids in Auburn who wanted to play lacrosse had to play for Lake Tapps or try to find a spot on the powerful Tahoma program. Now, they have a local choice.
“We’re trying to get as many numbers as we can. … We won’t turn down anybody,” said Craig Belcher, the club’s vice president, whose son Tommy, a sophomore, plays for Lucchesi’s Ravens. “We’re marketing real big, but it’s different with lacrosse in that we’re not just recruiting, we’ve got to teach the population what it is. … It’s not like Little League, where parents go, ‘Let’s go play baseball.’ This is like, ‘Oh, there’s a new sport out there. What is it?’
“As far as our numbers go? We really have no idea,” Belcher added. “We’re hitting up everything we can.”
The club’s marketing push has included posters placed in school hallways and frequent free clinics offered in the community. Lacrosse lessons have been welcomed into P.E. classes.
Registration has been slow, but hopes are for the club to field a solid team of seventh- and eighth-graders, with other age-level lineups continuing to take shape.
A new idea, the club hopes to field a program designed especially for kindergartners, first- and second-graders.
When Lucchesi left the Lake Tapps programs, the number of teams grew in each division.
Teaching kids the sport’s fundamentals early and often will mean better skilled players later. A good high school team, as Lucchesi explains, carries at least 20 players, preferably 25 to account for injuries and absences. The sport is so young in some areas that high school coaches often invite beginners to fill spots, especially good athletes who can grab a stick and play defense.
Given time, a youth program would boost player development, club organizers say.
Lacrosse, native and rich in tradition along the East Coast, has gradually come of age westward. More colleges are offering scholarships and more men’s and women’s programs are finding success. For instance, the University of Denver, which was introduced as a club sport in 1966, grew into a powerhouse that won the 2015 NCAA championship.
The Lucchesi family has long embraced the sport. Dad, who grew up around Rochester, N.Y., played in high school and college. Wife Kathi has worked closely with the sport in a variety of roles. Their three children – triplets – each excelled at lacrosse, either on the club, high school and collegiate level. All three shone under dad’s watch at Auburn Riverside.
Megan was a standout player in high school. Michael plays at University of Tampa, and Joey competes at Aurora (Ill.) University.
The sport has been good to them, and it can be good for many other families, Lucchesi said.
“We’re trying to get (a club) established and get the momentum rolling,” he said. “Once people hear about it and become aware of it, they’ll just fall in love with it.
“The ‘fastest game on two feet’ kinda grows on its own. It just needs that exposure.”