It's a great time for high school lacrosse in Illinois.
Monday begins the first season of the sport for boys and girls under full sanctioning of the Illinois High School Association. Seventy-eight boys teams and 59 girls teams -- all in the Chicago area but for the O'Fallon girls and the Dunlap boys -- are slated to participate in the first lacrosse state series that concludes with dual state finals at Hinsdale Central from May 31-June 2.
"I believe it was a good move," said second-year Glenbard West girls coach Laura Finfrock.
"Lacrosse is something in the Midwest that is growing very rapidly and it's nice to be brought in with the other sports," said Finfrock, who "chose my passion" when deciding between her job as a pathology support technician or coaching high school lacrosse.
"It's not a little sport anymore, we're growing, there's more and more youth coming up. The interest is exciting. It's nothing like the East Coast or the West Coast, but we're definitely growing and it's a great sign. It's nice to be in with soccer and football, that group."
It's taken awhile. As prep teams played games and players earned awards under the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association and the Illinois High School Womens Lacrosse Association, for most of this millennium lacrosse occupied IHSA limbo as an "emerging sport."
"It's definitely been on the radar for quite some time," said Neuqua Valley boys coach and Wildcats graduate Josh Maluta, who, coincidentally, played lacrosse at Adrian College while Finfrock was on the women's team.
Not that the IHSA wasn't receptive. More at issue was the prospect of schools granting field space for practices and games, adding another sport to the crowded spring docket. Also, taking on more expense. In a sport where a good helmet costs $200, some schools this season will require players to pay only the standard participation fee; other programs, still mainly parent-funded, will ask for hundreds more to cover coaching stipends, trainers, transportation, new uniforms, etc.
The IHSWLA noted that as far back as 2002 the IHSA approved a proposal to sanction lacrosse when a sufficient number of schools fielded teams. In 2009 the IHSA proposed a state series for the spring of 2011 if 65 boys teams and 40 girls teams committed.
That threshold was never passed by both during subsequent annual reviews, but finally on April 19, 2016, the IHSA board of directors approved state series "based on the continued growth" of lacrosse, IHSA President Craig Anderson said at the time.
Clearly now the numbers are there. So too will be sectionals, seeding, awards and postseason plaques. Ramping right up to speed, there may even be a minor controversy, like why boys heavies Loyola and New Trier -- winners of the last 13 IHSLA A-level titles and title foes 15 times -- are assigned to different supersectionals despite being 8 miles apart.
Currently, that's neither here nor there.
"I think there's more pros than cons," said Wheaton Warrenville South boys coach Mike Blouin. "And we are happy because we're going to have a state series just like basketball and everyone else. It's a recognized sport."
Montini senior Luma Medina, a 2017 IHSWLA honorable-mention all-state midfielder, thinks that's the key.
"It sounds like we're a little more official," said Medina, who found zero negatives in gaining full IHSA status. "Before we were just a club team and it didn't seem like we were a part of the school."
For instance, this season Neuqua Valley will play its home games at Barb Barrows Stadium unlike prior seasons when only senior day contests were held there. The Wildcats last year played mainly at Nike Park or Commissioners Park among "four or five home fields," Maluta said.
And that was a team that reached the IHSLA A-level semifinals and finished 18-4.
The main operational difference between the club and IHSA models will be putting all teams in one class rather than A and B levels on the boys' side, and the seeding procedure.
Right now that's secondary to veteran Naperville Central boys coach Jay Havenaar, who helped start the programs at both Naperville Central and Naperville North. Once, he said, there was "a glimmer of hope" for inclusion; now lacrosse is all in.
"I can speak for myself and the players," he said, "we're excited to be in a state series and getting out there and playing the game that we love."
Back on the club scene ...
New Wave Lacrosse on Wednesday announced the recipients of its top awards for male and female players, which recognizes everything from skill to character to potential.
Both are Metea Valley students who play for the Metea-Waubonsie Valley coop team. Attack Adam LaRocque earned New Wave's Man-Up Award, and goalie Abby Widd won the One-Heart Award.
<URL destination="#photo2">Net results
On Jan. 11 we wrote about Glenbard East senior Kolie Allen winning the girls 18s doubles title at the United States Tennis Association National Winter Championships in Orlando.
On Saturday Allen relaxed and enjoyed the fruits of her achievements. She was honored with the Helen Shockley Memorial Award as the 2017 female junior player of the year at the annual Chicago Tennis Patrons gala in Des Plaines.
A blue-chipper headed on a full ride to Ohio State, Allen went 33-0 last fall to capture the Class 2A singles title and went 100-6 for the Rams varsity. She did not play for the Rams as a junior to focus on national and international competition. Outside of high school in 2017 Allen won two other major doubles championships and two singles championships in addition to earning that gold ball at the Winter Championships.
The Chicago Wildfire will be back, slinging disc and diving after it as part of the American Ultimate Disc League. The Wildfire will play six home games at North Central College between April and July.
The Wildfire held a signing day event Jan. 28 in Naperville and has since announced its 35-man roster. Including coach Adrian King of Portland, Oregon, 15 states are represented.
Naperville high schoolers love their Ultimate. The Wildfire has two Neuqua Valley graduates on its roster, Dylan Power and Jeremy Burril.
The sport is a cross-training favorite for high school runners, who then bring it to college. One of those former runners is Lake Park and University of Iowa graduate Alex Rummelhart. The Wildfire veteran's Ultimate skills are so strong he's earned the nickname, "Uber."
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