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Women’s lacrosse continues its rise

By Griffin Kelly; gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com, 08/04/18, 2:45PM EDT

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LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament didn’t originally have girls’ or women’s divisions, but over time those classes have grown in size and also added innovations to the sport.

“They have grown dramatically to the point where in the scholastic tournament — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — we had more girls teams than boys,” said George Leveille, tournament co-founder. “And what was notable in that tournament, there were 32 teams of girls who are committed to Division I colleges already playing for those colleges. We’ve suddenly become a center for that type of play. There’s nowhere else where you have 32 of those types of teams playing, and the competition is at the highest level it could possibly be. So that’s been a really great addition to us over the last few years.”

There are a few key differences between male and female lacrosse, one being the level of physical contact. Male lacrosse players can body check each other and also slash at the hands. Because of this, players wear helmets, shoulder pads and thick gloves. In girls and women’s lacrosse, the contact is minimal, so the players tend to only wear goggles and mouth guards. The players can still slash but only away from the other person’s body.

However, Leveille said the girls and women’s style of play is getting more aggressive, and more contact might be seen in the near future. 

“There is movement throughout the world to unify the [men’s and women’s] games and make them feel more similar,” he said. “Women athletes these days are getting bigger, stronger, faster, and you’ll see there are rule changes occurring continuing to make the game safe.

“You’ll see in our women’s divisions over the weekend a few women wearing what looks like a helmet,” he continued. “They call it a headgear, and I think more and more you’ll see that as the athleticism and the potential for collisions increase the equipment and rules can change.”

A new addition to the Summit tournament, which Leveille thinks could be a big change for the sport in general, was a small-scale tournament in the women’s division. Normally, lacrosse is played with 11 players on each team, but the smaller tournament was 7-on-7, and the boundaries were restricted.

“I think as the Olympics moves closer to introducing lacrosse, that could be the way it’s played for both men and women,” Leveille said. “The games will be faster, shorter and smaller, but still very competitive.”

Ashley Murphy grew up playing lacrosse. She was a goalkeeper and team captain at Northwestern University, which she helped lead to a national championship in 2005. She is now the chief executive officer of Summit Lacrosse Ventures. 

Currently, there are multiple men’s divisions such as 18-plus, 35-plus and 60-plus. Women have just one division, 18 and older, with the older athletes being in their 30s. Murphy said there’s a plan to add more age groups.

“We’re looking to add a 25-plus or 27-plus division,” she said. “We do have a small 30-plus group that we’re trying to grow, but I think by adding those middle divisions, it’ll keep athletes playing. It tends to be more challenging on the women’s side to have people continue to play. 

“I think having families has something to do with it,” Murphy continued. “The men’s divisions are more developed. Typically there just are as many club programs on the women’s side.”

With the play style between men and women getting more similar, the idea of mixed-gender competition comes to mind.

Murphy thinks the sport is still far away from that, but she enjoys seeing the games get more congruent. Leveille agreed but said he could see them coming together in another way.

“You know, I think you’re going to see at the very least mixed-gender training because so many of the principles of the game are the same in terms of ball movement and movement around the field. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that.”