Lacrosse comes full circle in Vail
The first time I ever heard of Vail was during my freshman year of high school. No, I didn’t live in a cave, and yes, I happened to know my geography quite well. The more shocking part, however, is that I heard about Vail through lacrosse.The varsity squad at my Western New York high school team was competing in the Vail Lacrosse Shootout. “Wow,” I thought. “Upstate New York had good lacrosse, but Vail must be a lacrosse metropolis.”When I arrived in Vail to start my job at the Daily last August, I forgot about the lacrosse and started to learn about the skiing metropolis that is Vail. But last week, long after the skis and boards had been put into storage, the sticks and balls arrived in droves. Ah, the official Shootout.The first game I got to see was in the Masters Division between the Rusty Red, Cornell alumni and other Upstate New Yorkers, and Barely Legal, a melange of Coloradans. It was strange to see the All-Americans from Cornell I’d grown up hearing about square off against local guys I’d recently met. I enjoyed hearing guys from the previous game talk about how amazing players from Rusty Red are. Most people wouldn’t take pride in trivial eavesdropping, but when your sports teams (Buffalo Bills and Sabres) have been ridiculed on a national level for more than a decade, you take what you can get.
During halftime, a few guys on Barely Legal asked me to join them. At that point, things had really come full circle. If I had the equipment I would have suited up. Still, at 24, I would have been way too young to brandish the title ‘Barley Legal’. And after hearing about two guys who blew out their ACL’s for the first time, I figured that was enough. (I’m not saying that I would tear my ACL, but rather, my incredible moves would likely have caused ACL injuries for Rusty Red. So yeah, it was a benevolent decision. Go ahead, nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize.)HomegrownWednesday I got to see Colorado’s finest high schoolers take to the field. I went in without knowing what to expect, but I was impressed.While I may not be the head scout for Princeton, I have seen some good lacrosse in my day. After my days in Western New York, I headed to a boarding school, where our team played one of the most difficult schedules in New England (notice that lack of comment on our record). I always looked forward to (read: had trouble sleeping the night before) our game against Bridgton Academy, a boarding school for post graduates. Think of a Texas high school football team, and you’ll get a good picture of Bridgton’s squad. So it came as no surprise when one of Bridgton’s defenders poke-checked the ball from one of our players, caught it before it hit the ground, sprinted to the other end without being touched and rifled a goal.
Then in college, I got to see Princeton, Syracuse, Cornell and Johns Hopkins play against my alma matter. Again, I’m not an assistant coach for the Denver Outlaws, but I feel like there are guys and girls playing for Colorado teams who could end up contributing for any Division I college squad. This is impressive, considering the younger status of the game in the state.What I find even more wondrous is that there are two lacrosse teams in Eagle County. Lacrosse season usually starts in late March, that is in areas where the altitude isn’t almost two miles. Playing in a spring sport in a gym isn’t a huge selling point, but once the kids make it outside, I’m sure they’re enjoying things a little more. I do think coaches need to show some more tough love, though. I mean, come on, when I was in high school, part of our tryouts consisted of running sprints through inches of snow in an effort to expedite the clearing of our field.A sport for allThere is good reason why the lacrosse rosters are growing each years. Lacrosse is a sport that combines the best parts of other ones. It has the end-to-end action of hockey and basketball, the physical play of football and the strategy of soccer. At the same time, it has the high-scoring aspect that Americans love, but the last five minutes of a game don’t take an hour to complete.
Although girls’ lacrosse may not have the crowd-pleasing body checks, there are unique aspects of the game that make it just as exciting to play and watch. And trust me, the girls are just as tough. I remember watching a college game in which one girl took a shot directly off her forehead and didn’t even come off the field. The Italian soccer team should take a lesson.So if haven’t yet seen a game at the Shootout, do yourself a favor and check one out. While I can’t promise that you’ll get to see me showcasing my skills, I can guarantee you’ll be able to see some of the best players in the world lax it up.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado