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LAS Exclusive: Inside The Huddle with Creighton Lacrosse

2 - Published April 2, 2009 by in College

Editor’s note: Last weekend Mr. Blue Sky traveled to the Midwest for a firsthand look at the growing ranks of MCLA’s Division 2.
Ask people about Omaha, Nebraska and they might mention corn fields stretching to the horizon, giant steak dinners, or maybe even billionaire Warren Buffett. It might be the last place you would think to go expecting a great lacrosse game between two longtime rivals. 

College basketball junkies have heard about the mid-major Bluejay basketball team and football fans are well versed in the lore that surrounds the Nebraska Cornhuskers in nearby Lincoln. Tucked off a side street near Creighton’s campus, another team battles every spring in the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference.

Only Two Flights Away

Creighton UniversityLast weekend I left LAS HQ and hopped a plane destined for Milwaukee and then eventually wound up in the wide open spaces of Omaha. Flying from New York to Nebraska was a shock to the senses. The urban jungle of people, buildings, and grime was quickly replaced with an almost overwhelming sense of silence. It was my first time there and I came to watch the Creighton Bluejays Men’s lacrosse team play their 2009 home opener against GRLC rival Dordt College from Sioux Center, Iowa.

(Full disclosure: I happen to share the same last name as a senior  on the Jays and people keep saying we look alike. Go figure. Despite my affiliation to the team, this was my first time watching a MCLA Division 2 game)

I quickly found out that life in the Midwest can be tough this time of year. The bone-chilling cold in late March was one reminder that sping hasn’t fully settled and the Noah’s Ark sytle flooding in nearby South Dakota was affecting many peolpe in the region. Despite the cold, I made it to town Thursday night excited to be away from the bustle of NYC. Friday afternoon I caught up with the team at practice.

No Experience Required

The Jays Attack (Photo via Craven Venture Partners TM)

In general the starters for Creighton all have multiple years of lacrosse experience under their belts but many other players are “push/pull’ing” for the first time. While I was there the practice ran smoothly and I spent some time playing catch with a sophomore  student interested in joining the team. The potential recruit had recently left the Creighton Men’s D1 soccer team to focus on school and heard lacrosse was fun. After a review of a few fundamentals (“catch the ball like you are catching an egg” and “two hands on the stick for ground balls”) he was hooked.  In many areas where HS programs are still forming, the majority of college players are introduced to the game by MCLA teams like Creighton.

Despite coming later in life, many of these players end up being coaches and evangelists for the game in growing lacrosse areas.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the local Nebraska HS league has recently expanded to compensate for the popularity of lacrosse at Creighton and around the area.

Chilly Reception

Saturday was game day. At the starting whistle the temperature was hovering in the low 30′s and some players warmed up and even started the game in sweats. Inside the Jays’ huddle, everyone was pumped to play the Dordt Sowers. Fueled by Creighton’s struggles dealing with the Sower’s stingy zone defense in the past, a decent rivalry has emerged between the two teams. “These guys are football players who like to hit”, explained one player. As a result of the cold temperatures, the crowd was sparse but very loud. 

After a slash penalty by a large Dordt longpole one mother yelled “Hey Number 9, You are a big bully!” prompting jeers by the Sowers players. Many of these dedicated parents regularly drive 3+ hours to watch their team in action and one of them baked 10 dozen cookies for the players.

To recap the game, Dordt and their zone defense sprinted out to an early lead by forcing outside shots for the Jays.  However, Dordt fizzled down the stretch right as the Jays defense locked down. Creighton stormed back from 7-4  deficit to the tune of 6 unanswered goals in the 4th quarter.  The stunned Sowers never recovered and Creighton cruised to a 10-7 victory.

As I left the field the referees were surrounded by a ring of Dordt players and coaches making their case on some 50/50 calls during the game.  Specifically some questionable slashes and a few alledged dives had everyone riled up. Division 1, 2, or otherwise, the passion for the game was clearly present. With the big win, Creighton moved to 6-1 on the season and in prime position to make a run at a conference crown.

Paging Dr. Bluejay

So what’s the major difference down in MCLA Divsion 2? Every school at this level is dealing with less than idea circumstances with which to run a lacrosse program. It’s easy to dismiss but a major challenge for the Jays vs other larger programs is that overwhelmingly they are all pre-med and working through heavy course loads. For a majority of players their studies don’t just come first, they comes 1st, 2nd AND 3rd. Even though the Jays only practice three days a week, some starters can only make it to one due to obligations in class or labs. At larger schools in MCLA Divison 1 it’s a given that most players can reorganize classes for lacrosse season to handle the commitment that comes with practice 5 days a week, team mandated weight lifting sessions, and driving/flying to games. This dynamic simply doesn’t exist on team where some of the guys will end up doing triple bypass heart surgeries.

Grassroots Growth in the Heartland

Dordt defenders swarm the ball (Photo via Craven Venture Partners TM)Overall, the weekend was an eye opening experience and convinced me forever of the value of having a level of lacrosse like the MCLA’s Division 2. For smaller schools with passionate players and coaches, sometimes the commitment is there but the time and resources are limited. High school and youth participation is growing exponentially  around the country but more attention should go to the great work being done in the MCLA D2. Not only are college students paying to play but they are coordinating the schedule and doing administrate work to keep their programs alive. Creighton should be a prime example of how schools with inherent disadvantages can not only make lacrosse work but thrive. Despite dealing with a lack of prior experienced players, frigid weather for most of the spring, difficulties fielding numbers for practice, and numerous other challenges, the Bluejays make it work simply because they love strapping on a helmet and playing.

If anyone ever had doubts about the viability of lacrosse as a sport, I suggest taking a trip far away from the traditional lacrosse meccas. It won’t be long before you find a young kid throwing on a wall or a 6×6 goal chained to a fence on a football field. The lacrosse zeitgeist  has taken root not just in a select few places but all across America.

(All game photos courtesy of the kind hearted folks over at Craven Venture PartnersTM)

Next Up For Creighton

  • Fri April 3rd @TBA vs. Rockhurst (at Creighton University)
  • Sat April 4th @ 1:00 PM  vs. Northwestern College (at Creighton University)