Colorado growing a lacrosse tradition
VAIL – Take a look at some of the teams in this year’s Vail Lacrosse Shootout. There are four quality girls’ squads from one state vying for a spot in the finals. And one boys’ team has 25 of its 30 kids playing in college next year.Are these teams from Maryland? Nope. New England? Try again.Colorado? Exactly.Lacrosse isn’t just an alternative sport in the Centennial State. “The youth programs are growing. The high school programs are getting better, and the high school coaches are improving our knowledge of the game and helping our kids,” said Bryan Perry, coach for the boys’ Team Colorado U-19’s.”(Colorado) is becoming more of a hot spot,” said Samantha Bartron, coach of Team 180. “You’ve got a lot more people looking back to Colorado to see the talent that’s coming through. Predominantly, it was always the East Coast, but now there are scouts out here looking at these girls.”Perry, who has been coaching Team Colorado for seven years, has seen his team progress from a lower-rung team to contenders in the Shootout. Team Colorado won two of the last three high school finals.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Perry said. “We used to come up here and get killed by teams from Ohio and New England. It wasn’t even a game. And now we’re right there with those guys. We beat Ohio in the championship (in 2003).”The girls haven’t consolidated all the skill into one team, but there’s still plenty of talent to go around.”You’ve got a lot of club teams in Colorado,” said Greg Courter, coach of the girls’ Team Colorado. “It certainly provides more playing opportunities for the kids. Since we are trying to put together a team Colorado, and it’s in our backyard, it would be nice to win it one year because there is enough talent to put out a team that could win. Two of the Denver area teams – Kent Denver and Cherry Creek – are ranked in the top 15 in the country by LaxPower. We have kids who can play.”MomentumWhile more and more kids have been moving into lacrosse at younger ages, the sport has also grown at higher levels.”We’ve got some of the biggest names in lacrosse living in Denver now,” Courter said. “Gary Gait on the guys’ side and Jen Adams – the best player in the history of the women’s game – coaching at (Denver University). Look at the popularity of the Mammoth (of the National League Lacrosse) and the Outlaws (of the Major League Lacrosse).”The majority of kids picking up lacrosse aren’t just breaking into sports, but rather transferring from other sports.”A lot of the influx is coming in from soccer, which was so highly competitive,” Bartron said. “It got to the point where (soccer) was too much for these young kids and they were getting burned out. They were looking for another sport. You put a lacrosse stick in their hands, and all of a sudden, they start taking off.”
Lacrosse, which draws more and more kids every year, has also grabbed kids from baseball.”There are some kids who aren’t necessarily good at putting the bat on the ball, but they are good athletes. They come out and play lacrosse and have a great experience,” Perry said.Even kids who pick up the game in high school seem to already have the requisite skills to play lacrosse.”We’ve got some kids who haven’t been playing that long, but they’ve been involved in athletics their entire lives in all these different sports,” Bartron said. “It has given them the ability to see the field and understand the game and the team concept.”Parity problemsDenver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder have blossomed to the point where top Division I college rosters boast kids from Front Range high schools, and other regions are sprouting new teams each year.Boys’ lacrosse has seen tremendous growth on the Western Slope. After a few years as a joint Eagle County team, Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain split and formed separate teams two years ago.One thing that has hampered growth, however, has been the everlasting snow.
“We’re trying to find a way to schedule games, but you’ve gotta wait until the snow gets off the field in the middle of April,” Perry said.The game has met more difficulty on the girls’ side.”I know Steamboat has a program going now, but I’d like to see some of the other communities start some teams, too,” Courter said. “I wish there were more parity in girls’ lacrosse in Colorado. There’s a lot of parity in the boys.”Still, the overall progress curve for the state is high, and keeps rising.”The talent level seems to almost double every three years,” Perry said. “We’re getting to be one of the stronger regions in the country. Not necessarily like Baltimore, Long Island or upstate New York, but certainly in the top 10.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado