Editor’s Note: Whitney Thayer works for CityLax, in New York City, and played her collegiate lacrosse at Williams College, in Massachusetts, but a big part of her heart remains out in Colorado, where the Vail Shootout is held annually. Whitney made it out to Vail this year, and has some wonderful and stirring thoughts on this legendary Summer field tournament! Photos by Clark Bell
As an original Denver native (though my time there was sadly cut short with a family move to Pennsylvania just over a year after my birth) and with a lot of family/friends still out there, there are few things that I love more than going back to Colorado. Not only because it warms my heart to see so many fellow Broncos fans in one place, but also because of the beauty of the mountains, the ‘Colorado Blue’ skies, and all of the wonderful memories that I have of family visits, skiing adventures, hiking trips, and tasty local brews.
In fact, every time I make it back to Colorado, I always spend half the trip trying to remember why the heck I live in New York City. So, combine this incredible setting with my all-time favorite activity in the world, playing lacrosse, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an amazing long weekend in July.
And once again this year, the 41st annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout did not disappoint.
With over 60 men’s teams in 5 Divisions, and 33 women’s teams in 2 divisions, this tournament has definitely become an intriguing melting pot of the Lacrosse community, from High school (and younger) players to the ZenMasters, from East coast to West coast natives, and everything else in between. Like many a lax event, the weekend tends to involve a lot of friendly reunions, fun parties, new connections, and “Hey, didn’t we play each other in high school?” type conversations, not to mention some amazing lacrosse. It’s always a blast, and leaves me exhausted, with very sore legs, but completely content.
On the women’s side, this year’s competition was top level, with teams like Team STX, the Harrow HoneyBadgers, Gang Green, and CRSLax.com putting up some particularly impressive games. And yet the prevailing attitude across the Women’s tournament is generally a relaxed one, with most just reveling in the experience, the chance to play, and the connection with the lacrosse community. While I can’t fully speak for the men’s side on this, all the guys I spoke with and men’s games that I watched suggest that it is similar for them as well.
It is mostly this attitude that really makes me love the Vail Shootout. Despite the fact that I’m an incredibly competitive person, it didn’t even matter to me that Team STX (the eventual Women’s Elite champs—these girls were sick) completely shut my team out during pool play. It was still just awesome to compete against such talented players, who were at the same time very friendly and equally as appreciative of the beautiful mountain setting and the chance to continue playing the game we all love. (Of course, I’m also still beating myself up about a missed free position I had in that game, but that’s a story for another day).
This ability to just enjoy the tournament and revel in the opportunity to play is a particularly poignant thing for me personally, as my own mother was actually a part of the first group of women to participate in the Vail Shootout some 30 years ago.
She and 25 others played in an exhibition game during the tournament in ’84, and from then on out women’s lax became a permanent part of the Shootout. When I asked her about the experience and what it meant to her, she said this:
The whole thing was so much fun, because at the time [women’s lacrosse] was hardly available anywhere in Colorado, so any time that you got to play was just amazing, and we cherished it. We were very proud of our game, the women’s game, and therefore we were extremely excited to be able to play it at this previously men’s-only tournament, in this showcase.
We wanted to show how beautiful and different the game was [from the men’s], and felt so lucky to be able to do just that…all while having a blast playing the sport that we loved so much. - Francie Thayer
While lacrosse (both women’s and men’s) has certainly become more ubiquitous since 1984, it is amazing and humbling for me to see that this same attitude, this sheer appreciation and love of playing, still remains so prevalent. I thank my mother, and the multitude of other lacrosse women like her, for setting that example for the next generation, and for me specifically throughout my entire lacrosse career.
It is a tradition that has carried through the Vail Shootout particularly well, and I can only hope that this will continue to be the case as the tournament ages further. With such a deep tradition, passionate participants, and a beautiful setting, I certainly like the odds. I for one am already counting down the days until Vail 2014!