Crossing Over

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It was a decision that resolved years of anticipation: Lacrosse would join the ranks as a Marquette D-1 athletic team. As the recruits come in and players hit the practice field, we ask: What’s next for the newest Golden Eagles? 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7wtxz5sB3M

Attackers flank the left and right as the offensive movement succeeds in its drive toward the pitch. Defenders wheel backwards as they realize one of their surging opponents.

For years, Marquette University students have clamored for a new varsity intercollegiate sport while visions of tailgating for Golden Eagle baseball, cheering for Marquette football in a bowl game or bundling up for a hockey game at the Bradley Center danced in their heads.

Last fall, the Marquette athletic department made an effort to appease the masses when it announced it would expand its sports roster from 14 Division I teams to 16 with the addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse.

The decision was anything but cursory. Over a year of strategic planning and deliberation went into selecting which sport to add and building the foundation of the new programs from scratch.

“It was more administration that made the move, but then we talked it over with some donors and everyone was really excited,” said Danielle Josetti, associate athletic director. “Our former athletic director and other staff members researched it for about a year as far as the impact on the university and the athletic department … We have looked at other sports, but right now lacrosse makes the most sense to us.”

A variety of regional, demographic and financial aspects motivated Marquette’s decision to launch varsity intercollegiate men’s and women’s lacrosse. The athletic department’s strategic study of the sport highlighted the following motives for deciding to initiate the program:

Lacrosse is the nation’s fastest growing sport.

High school participation in lacrosse grew 528 percent from 1990 to 2008, as reported by the National Federation of State High School Associations. This had both a trickle-down effect on youth participation, which saw a 12.1 percent increase with more than 30,000 players picking up the sport in 2009, and a fostering effect on collegiate play, which increased 6 percent to 557 men’s and women’s NCAA teams in 2009, according to US Lacrosse.

The Midwest also reflects the sport’s rising popularity where states like Illinois, which contains 69 Illinois High School Association schools that participate in lacrosse, are incorporating it into their lineup of state championship sports.

photos by Elise Krivit

Opportunity for early market penetration 

Launching lacrosse now will give Marquette the advantage of entering the market in a rapidly growing sport before other Division I schools start their own lacrosse programs.

“[Marquette] isn’t competing with many other schools for lacrosse  in the Midwest, which we think is to our advantage because we think we can get some high level talent; it’s not saturated, yet,” Josetti said.

By getting ahead of the curve, Marquette will cultivate its presence in the Midwest and hone its program before other institutions do. This should give Marquette the advantage of experience against teams going through growing pains with their newly established lacrosse programs. Additionally, the head start will also give Marquette a future advantage in recruiting, since its presence in the lacrosse community will be better established than teams in their formative years.

 

Fitting the Big East Conference profile

With seven schools that support men’s lacrosse programs and eight institutions that field women’s lacrosse, the Big East Conference would provide Marquette with a challenging, but eminent platform for its emergent program.

Arguably the best NCAA conference for lacrosse in the country, the Big East boasts teams like Syracuse and Notre Dame. Syracuse’s program earned 10 national championships in men’s lacrosse, and consistent top 25 NCAA standings for its women’s team. Notre Dame is a veritable force in lacrosse with a runner-up national championship title for its men’s team, along with a history of successful campaigns in women’s lacrosse.

Marquette will initially struggle against the Big East’s arsenal of formidable opponents, but the athletic administration anticipated this and recruited Meredith Black to become the head coach of women’s lacrosse.

As a former lacrosse player and coach at Notre Dame, Black’s athletic and professional resume is studded with accolades and marks of success, including multiple NCAA tournament appearances, conference titles, player of the year awards and school records.

“Having that experience and just knowing what it takes as a player to be successful in the Big East is really important,” Black said. “I think for people who have never been a part of the lacrosse scene in the Midwest, [coaching here] would be a challenge for them, but I know what it takes to get it done.”

 

Marquette lacks spring sports

With only two true spring sports — tennis and track and field -— Marquette could use another spring team to increase its presence in the athletic community and provide fans with something else to enjoy during the spring months, especially since basketball ends in March.

“Lacrosse is a spring sport, and we don’t have a lot of spring sports for students to go to,” Josetti said, “so we think it’ll draw a decent crowd.”

Lacrosse begins competition in February and concludes in May with the NCAA championship game. Although lacrosse is not considered a mainstream sport, its straightforward rules and scoring procedures are easy to pick up, and its offensively fueled, contact-driven objectives have the potential to earn fans quickly.

 

Lacrosse is relatively cost-effective

Marquette already owns the facilities for a lacrosse program. Valley Fields’ football turf has the lacrosse boundary lines and other markers from the club lacrosse teams. Although the football field lacks the seating arrangements of the adjacent soccer fields, portable bleachers will provide a modest solution. Padding, implements, clothing and other lacrosse equipment are not terribly expensive, either.

The combined operating budget, which contains expenses like coach salaries, for men’s and women’s lacrosse teams in the Big East averages around $1.8 million, according to a strategic study done by the Marquette athletic department, with over $1 million of that cost attributed to athletic scholarship aid. This is an expense for the lacrosse programs, but counts as funded tuition revenue for universities.

 

Getting it done

Making the decision to move forward with building two new Division I teams was just the first step for Marquette. Selecting a steadfast coaching staff with a vision for establishing a program needed to come next, which is why Marquette reached out to Black and Joe Amplo, head coach of men’s lacrosse.

At Hofstra University, Amplo helped his team to 10 NCAA Championships, three as a student-athlete and seven as a coach, with his most recent appearance in 2010.

“At Hofstra, we were always the underdog trying to fight the bigger name schools, and while I think Marquette has a different name than Hofstra in terms of an institution, the thing that’s consistent is that we’ll have that mentality, especially in the beginning,” Amplo said. “We’re going to have to fight for everything. Nothing is going to be handed to us and that’s the way I like it. That’s why toughness, accountability and teamwork are assets that each player will have.”

Another trait that both Black and Amplo based their recruiting philosophy on is eagerness to help establish the program as a member of Marquette’s inaugural lacrosse teams.

“We really want people who are committed, dedicated, who love the school and what we’re trying to do with energy and excitement about Marquette starting lacrosse,” Black said. “Right now, the 15 girls we have and the 18 coming in are exactly that. They’re great players, but even more importantly, their leadership, excitement and work ethic is what’s really going to make them stand out.”

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