Efforts to cultivate growth in Minnesota have succeeded, as the sport has quickly gained traction.
Waiting for his chance to be a part of the game, Aaron Propson paid close attention to the whereabouts of the ball during the Eagan High School boys' lacrosse playoff opener Wednesday. With his stick in the air and his helmet fastened to his chin, he patrolled the endlines for anything heading his direction.
Opportunities for action were limited, but he didn't care. Propson was one of four seventh- and eighth-graders in the Eagan youth lacrosse program eagerly offering services to be a ball shagger.
"I want to be out there one day," the 12-year-old said, looking onto the field of varsity athletes.
Propson's passion for lacrosse mirrors a growing trend in communities throughout Minnesota. Fueled by elementary school and junior high youngsters choosing it over pastimes such as baseball and softball, the sport -- still somewhat unfamiliar to the masses -- is one of the fastest-growing in America.
Minnesota is among the states leading the way. A 2011 study conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association said participation nationally increased 218 percent in the past decade. Minnesota membership growth in U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body, ranks ninth.
At the state's high school level over the past 10 years, boys' and girls' varsity participation jumped from 61 to 154 teams, according to the Lax Hub.
"We're way up there," said Jenni Lorsung, president of Youth Lacrosse of Minnesota. "Our lowest growth year was 13 percent. And there have been years we've had 25 percent growth in the boys' level."
Preparing himself for a first-round playoff rout, Simley boys' coach Garnet Asmundson explained why his Inver Grove Heights program, which relies on players groomed while in high school, is still "light years" behind the likes of neighboring schools in Eagan, Apple Valley and Rosemount.
"The program is still in its infancy stages," Asmundson said. "You've got to build from the youth up, and we're doing it in the opposite way, and that's tough."
While the sport's popularity has boosted high school team numbers, newcomers are struggling to keep up with the more experienced and rooted programs, such as Blake. The void isn't that large, though, argues Blake interim boys' coach Chris Garland.
As more knowledgeable coaches and referees surround the game, players are learning at an accelerated pace. Garland said the foundations of the sport -- running, passing, catching -- aren't much different than other sports, and kids are enticed by the fast pace.
"It's an easy game to learn," said Garland, who played NCAA Division III lacrosse at Hampden-Sydney College (Va.). "The concepts are so easy, so once you apply them from other sports, it's just a great sport to play."
Growth in Minnesota has been nurtured over the past eight years by Homegrown Lacrosse, a local business that formed in 2004 to raise awareness and help develop programs with "grass-roots'' training. This sort of guidance has matured the metro area into a regular producer of college talent.
"With more and more associations getting stronger and developing, [participation] numbers are continuing to rise," said Colin Achenbach, co-founder of Homegrown Lacrosse. "And the high schools are a testament to that the skill level of lacrosse in the metro area is increasing. The competition and parity is stronger across the state."
The Minnesota State High School League has acknowledged this improvement by continually sanctioning more teams. Its website lists 57 boys' teams and 63 girls' teams. The MSHSL first sanctioned a lacrosse state tournament in 2007. Next year the league will add four new sections and expand the state tournament to eight teams.
Where are they coming from?
Which stick to pick was an overwhelming decision for Eagan senior Mack Nelson. He approached high school with backgrounds in baseball and lacrosse, both spring sports.
"For me, lacrosse is more exciting of a game," Nelson said about his choice. "It's more fun. ... It's more up-tempo."
Baseball has apparently suffered the most, as youth are beginning to pick lacrosse over baseball for spring and summer activities. The Eagan Athletic Association has seen a decline of its youth baseball numbers with the new rival sport in the mix.
High school baseball coaches are starting to address concerns about losing depth and quality players. For example, baseball has typically attracted hockey players who now might see lacrosse functioning as a better cross-training fit. There's also lacrosse's appeal as more fun or social than baseball are some of the issues baseball programs have begun address.
"Our numbers have not been hampered enough by lacrosse so far, but I am seeing a trend and a correlation that I don't like, and it makes me nervous," Elk River baseball coach Ryan Holmgren said.
At Shattuck-St. Mary's, baseball coach Michael Carpentier said numbers have been down the past five years as a direct effect of lacrosse.
"Lacrosse is fun, physical, and takes athleticism to compete," he said. "But it certainly is taking many talented athletes off of the baseball diamond."
The universal athletic concepts of lacrosse have attracted kids from all sports. Blake sophomore standout Lydia Sutton has put varsity soccer on the back burner of her athletic focus. Eagan's Calvin Lamb did the same to football.
Propson and his three friends all picked lacrosse over baseball. It was an easy decision for them.
"There is a lot more action," 13-year-old Joey Hofmann said about his new favorite sport. "I was [a baseball player] until I played lacrosse. I didn't like standing around."
Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-4494 On Twitter: @JGonStrib
|Chicago||11/27/14 11:30 AM|
|Philadelphia||11/27/14 3:30 PM|
|Seattle||11/27/14 7:30 PM|
|Cleveland||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Washington||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Tennessee||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|San Diego||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Giants||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Oakland||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|New Orleans||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Carolina||11/30/14 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||11/30/14 3:05 PM|
|New England||11/30/14 3:25 PM|
|Denver||11/30/14 7:30 PM|
|Miami||12/1/14 7:30 PM|
|Atlanta||68||3rd Qtr 0:30|
|Golden State||61||3rd Qtr|
|Detroit||40||2nd Qtr 5:52|
|Sacramento||40||2nd Qtr 6:14|
|Los Angeles||1||2nd Prd|
|Edmonton||0||1st Prd 12:57|
|New Jersey||9:00 PM|
|Alabama||63||2nd Half 3:35|
|UT Martin||68||2nd Half 5:49|
|SE Missouri St||52||2nd Half 0:39|
|NC Central||48||2nd Half 1:50|
|Fair-Dickinson||41||2nd Half 4:45|
|Citadel||53||2nd Half 1:36|
|Houston||59||2nd Half 0:41|
|William Peace||71||2nd Half 0:05|
|Texas-Arlington||42||2nd Half 2:38|
|St Francis-NY||53||2nd Half 2:46|
|Boston Univ||58||2nd Half 4:34|
|Chicago State||53||2nd Half 2:07|
|Ark-Pine Bluff||54||2nd Half 4:22|
|Hartford||51||2nd Half 1:02|
|Saint Peters||56||2nd Half 6:16|
|Jackson State||57||2nd Half 6:36|
|Long Island||60||2nd Half 1:46|
|Hofstra||64||2nd Half 3:14|
|Western Ky||57||2nd Half 4:20|
|Loyola-Maryland||29||2nd Half 6:22|
|Penn||59||2nd Half 6:36|
|Detroit||71||2nd Half 2:50|
|Northern Iowa||65||2nd Half 7:43|
|William & Mary||83|
|Ohio Valley||53||2nd Half 1:59|
|Mount Ida||54||2nd Half 2:26|
|Kansas State||36||2nd Half 15:52|
|Binghamton||29||2nd Half 16:12|
|Central Arkansas||28||2nd Half 17:04|
|Howard||33||2nd Half 19:09|
|VA Commonwealth||39||2nd Half 13:48|
|Arkansas||40||2nd Half 16:20|
|Jacksonville St||33||1st Half 1:13|
|TX A&M-CC||12||1st Half 3:15|
|Eastern Ill||20||2nd Half|
|St Xavier||30||1st Half 2:29|
|Northern Ariz||26||2nd Half|
|Nebraska Omaha||29||1st Half 2:36|
|Akron||41||1st Half 1:15|
|NC A&T||16||1st Half 2:57|
|Columbia International||23||1st Half 5:35|
|Troy||37||1st Half 0:53|
|St Francis-PA||23||2nd Half|
|Northwestern St||21||1st Half 3:29|
|Southern U||24||1st Half 1:31|
|Norfolk State||23||1st Half 0:01|
|Jarvis Christian||27||2nd Half|
|North Dakota St||39|
|Lamar||28||1st Half 2:26|
|IUPUI||23||1st Half 1:15|
|San Francisco||5||1st Half 14:40|
|Fla Gulf Coast||9|
|Air Force||8:00 PM|
|Boise State||8:00 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Bristol University||9:05 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton||10:00 PM|
|Ohio U||7||3rd Qtr|
|LSU||11/27/14 6:30 PM|
|(6) TCU||11/27/14 6:30 PM|
|Northern Ill||11/28/14 10:00 AM|
|Nebraska||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Western Ky||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|UCF||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Houston||11/28/14 11:00 AM|
|Akron||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Ball State||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Buffalo||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Toledo||11/28/14 12:00 PM|
|Arkansas||11/28/14 1:30 PM|
|Navy||11/28/14 2:00 PM|
|(13) Arizona State||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|Stanford||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|(21) Colorado State||11/28/14 2:30 PM|
|Virginia||11/28/14 7:00 PM|
|East Carolina||11/28/14 7:30 PM|
|North Texas||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Old Dominion||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|(16) Georgia Tech||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Kentucky||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|So Carolina||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|West Virginia||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Rice||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Michigan||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|(7) Ohio State|
|Purdue||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Illinois||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|Cincinnati||11/29/14 11:00 AM|
|NC State||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Syracuse||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Louisiana||11/29/14 11:30 AM|
|Utah||11/29/14 12:00 PM|
|Texas State||11/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Idaho||11/29/14 1:00 PM|
|Wyoming||11/29/14 2:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||11/29/14 2:00 PM|
|UAB||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(4) Miss State||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(18) Ole Miss|
|Notre Dame||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(10) Michigan State||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) Minnesota||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(5) Baylor||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|Florida||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|Rutgers||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|San Jose St||11/29/14 2:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Tennessee||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Connecticut||11/29/14 3:00 PM|
|BYU||11/29/14 3:30 PM|
|ULM||11/29/14 5:00 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Hawaii||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Wake Forest||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||11/29/14 6:00 PM|
|(15) Auburn||11/29/14 6:45 PM|
|(3) Oregon||11/29/14 7:00 PM|
|Utah State||11/29/14 9:15 PM|
|(25) Boise State|
|Washington||11/29/14 9:30 PM|
|Nevada||11/29/14 9:30 PM|
|Hamilton||11/30/14 5:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara||34||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||57||FINAL|
|Johnson C. Smith||45||FINAL|
|(2) Notre Dame||112|
|Washington St||74||2nd Half 0:01|
|Vermont||54||2nd Half 2:39|
|Central Conn St||54|
|St Francis-NY||46||1st OT 1:37|
|(21) Rutgers||78||2nd Half 3:35|
|IUPU-Ft Wayne||56||2nd Half 3:15|
|Fairleigh Dickinson||57||2nd Half 3:27|
|Jacksonville||49||2nd Half 3:52|
|SIU-Edwardsville||57||2nd Half 3:47|
|Duquesne||76||2nd Half 3:49|
|Liberty||58||2nd Half 0:35|
|Grambling||58||2nd Half 1:42|
|Western Ky||50||2nd Half 7:45|
|Arizona State||60||2nd Half 2:26|
|Charleston Southern||51||2nd Half 6:14|
|Tenn Tech||58||2nd Half 2:20|
|Hillsdale||56||2nd Half 1:08|
|Gardner-Webb||64||2nd Half 4:52|
|Bucknell||54||2nd Half 3:10|
|Lafayette||60||2nd Half 4:42|
|Lehigh||64||2nd Half 3:02|
|George Mason||68||2nd Half 1:15|
|Old Dominion||67||2nd Half 0:07|
|SW Assemblies||38||2nd Half 18:00|
|LSU-Alexandria||52||2nd Half 5:17|
|Wofford||43||2nd Half 9:57|
|(25) Miss State||48|
|Morgan State||19||2nd Half|
|(20) Oklahoma St||29|
|St Edwards||20||1st Half 1:30|
|Stephen F Austin||10|
|Northern Iowa||21||2nd Half|
|Southern U||21||1st Half 4:25|
|Harvard||31||1st Half 3:44|
|Portland State||8:00 PM|
|Montana State||8:00 PM|
|Long Beach St||9:00 PM|