Editor’s note: Please welcome Barbarosa to Lax All Stars. A longtime NW Lax observer, Barbarosa brings you a look inside the High School scene of The Evergreen State, otherwise known as Washington. On schedule for today: Bainbridge Island vs. Mercer Island and the competitive landscape of Seattle-area programs. Enjoy.
When trying to understand the explosion of lacrosse in the state of Washington, nothing brings it home more than a trip to Bainbridge Island for a big game. Many lacrosse fans made the trek by ferry from Seattle across Puget Sound on a beautiful sunny day last week to visit one of the hotbeds of Washington lacrosse.
The story of Washington high school lacrosse is not so different than that in other parts of the country. We have four or five established programs that have a shot at the State Championship trophy every year, and these days, if you’re not Bainbridge Island, Issaquah, Bellevue or Mercer Island, it’s usually a tough ride.
However, this season, the Washington High School Boys Lacrosse Association boasts 49 high school programs in two divisions and eight conferences. Most schools have between 40 – 70 athletes competing in their programs. The Washington School Girls Lacrosse Association has 31 high school girls programs. Lacrosse has spread statewide with teams literally in the four corners of the state. As these programs mature and the competition increases, the teams at the top will no longer feel automatically entitled to the State Championship.
Bainbridge Island is a community 35 ferry minutes west of Seattle. Like many island communities, they’re a close-knit group that supports all the programs at the local high school. But lacrosse really brings them out. A typical Friday night game finds the stands full, hamburgers being BBQ’d and a lot of Rockwell-esque charm. There’s not a better place to watch lacrosse in our state.
Today Mercer Island’s team travels to face Bainbridge for the annual “Battle of the Islands.” Mercer Island is a chunk of land stuck in the middle of a freshwater lake immediately east of Seattle. It is a land of power, affluence, privilege, and good lacrosse. In a sport of haves and have-nots, Mercer Island wants you to know they’re a “have”. In other words, it’s the place everyone else loves to hate. This year’s new black uniforms and helmets confirm their Raider-osity.
Mercer Island’s coach, Ian O’Hearn came out west in 2004, the same time that his Albany teammate, John Baumann arrived. Baumann took over a Bellevue High program that was in disarray, O’Hearn took over a Mercer Island team that had just won a State Championship. They typify the trend that has accelerated the growth of lacrosse in Washington: coaches with solid lacrosse backgrounds, from major lacrosse schools, moving west to run teams in the Seattle area. Today our kids are coached by players who succeeded at Hopkins, Navy, Limestone, Rutgers, and Princeton – just to name a few. These coaches aren’t teaching out of a book.
Our talent is flowing the other way as well. Washington staffs the roster of many powerhouse teams back East. Maryland, Cornell, Colgate, St. Lawrence, Yale, Fairfield, are among the places former players from the Evergreen State are making an impact. Closer to home, we’ve got players at both Denver and Chapman. Our club programs (most notably Fred Wilmot’s Seattle Starz teams) travel East most summers and come back with a few trophies, and the understanding that they can compete at a top level anywhere in the country. Washington lacrosse may be unknown to many, but it’s legit.
It’s this kind of success and enthusiasm for the sport that attracted the San Jose owners to move their NLL franchise north to become the Washington Stealth. Our community has embraced the Stealth, their players and the world of indoor lacrosse in a way none of us could have imagined a few years ago. Stealth players help coach, run clinics and are great citizens of our community. There’s more than a few 3rd graders rockin’ Rabil flow around the schoolyard.
But the ferry has arrived and it’s time to play lacrosse. Today’s game doesn’t live up to the hype. Mercer Island’s slew of returning players crushed Bainbridge Island’s bunch of young puppies, dealing them their worst loss ever, 13-0. Mercer Island dominated every part of the game, limiting Bainbridge to just 10 shots. They even held them scoreless when MI was three men down, from a slew of unnecessary roughness and mouthing off penalties. Somewhere, Al Davis smiled. Just win baby, indeed.
The loss stings, but everyone in the stands knows that karma’s a bitch, and The Men in Black’s day of reckoning looms ahead. But it’s a sunny day in March, which is always a gift. This is Washington lacrosse, where the view from the return ferry ride is enough to make anyone forget a tough day on the field.