When imagining Arizona, one thinks of the Grand Canyon, the cascading water in Havasupai Falls, or even Devils Bride in Sedona – these are some of the landmarks that represent our desert climate and triple-digit heat. Lacrosse might not be where your mind goes immediately when Arizona comes up.
Moving to Arizona more than 18 years ago, I was introduced to the game of lacrosse in 2005 and have seen an immense amount of growth at all levels. Lacrosse in Arizona is becoming more and more popular and is continuing to produce top players in collegiate, professional, and even international play.
From my eighth grade year in the West Valley to finishing my collegiate career with Northern Arizona University and now coaching all levels of youth with Cobra Lacrosse, I can attest to how AZ is becoming a contender in the sport.
Arizona Lacrosse: The State of the Sport
Youth & High School
Youth lacrosse in Arizona is spread throughout the Valley and even reaches down south to Tucson. The Arizona Youth Lacrosse Organization’s mission is to facilitate the growth of youth lacrosse throughout the state and encourage the growth of high school lax through member club teams that are affiliated with local high schools.
With ages ranging from 8U to 14U, there are 15 programs where players can learn the sport and growth within their lacrosse community. The season concludes with the Cactus Cup, where the top competitive 14U teams play for a state title.
The Arizona Lacrosse League (ALL) is the high school organization that’s home to 19 teams. The ALL works with the Arizona chapter of USA Lacrosse to promote the growth of the game throughout the state with the fundamental goal of constantly increasing the quantity, quality, and stability of its member programs. During the spring, the ALL’s teams compete to finish in the top 10 for the right to play in the playoffs for the Division I State Championship.
In 2021, Boulder Creek won its first title in program history, needing overtime to defeat Brophy Prep, 13-12.
The level of play in Arizona is increasing. The state has produced around 30 NCAA DI players and many more at the DII and DIII levels. Top players, such as Jakob Patterson (Albany, Corona Del Sol), Hunter Rodgers (Johns Hopkins, Brophy), Pierce Basset (Johns Hopkins, Brophy), Cade van Raaphorst (Duke, Desert Vista), and Ian Gray (UMBC, Chapparal) represented Arizona lacrosse in the college ranks, and some even progressed to the MLL and PLL.
Arizona is home to four teams in the MCLA.
One of the top Division I programs in the MCLA is Grand Canyon University. The school is in the heart of Phoenix and led by head coach Jeff Guy. Guy is a Delaware alum who’s been involved with Arizona lacrosse for more than 10 years. He coached at the high school level with Chapparal, Notre Dame Prep, and even coached a travel club team, Arizona Monsoon. GCU shook up the MCLA in 2017, capturing its first-ever MCLA national championship that season.
Another premier MCLA DI program is Arizona State. ASU is in Tempe and home to the Sun Devils, currently led by new head coach Justin Straker. ASU has had successful runs in its conference, claiming the Southwest Lacrosse Conference (SLC) crown in 2014, and has also made 11 all-time appearances in the MCLA National Tournament.
Down south in Tucson, is the University of Arizona. Matt Blamey has been head coach of the Wildcats since 2017, and in just his second year in charge, he was named the SLC Division I Coach of the Year. In 2018, Arizona also inducted Mickey-Miles Felton into its inaugural Hall of Fame for playing and coaching with the school’s team from 1976 to 2013. Felton was honored by USA Lacrosse as one of the few coaches to ever win more than 300 games and earn Coach of the Year honors five times.
The fourth MCLA team in Arizona hails from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The NAU Lumberjacks are a Division II MCLA side that I personally played for. In my three years at NAU, we always had winning seasons, making it to the SLC Finals but unfortunately coming up short. In the 2018-19 season, NAU finally broke through, hiring new head coach William Lawlor, who became involved in growing the program with the introduction of Prospect Day. That innovation made a big difference for recruiting and added structure to the Lumberjacks. With hard-fought wins, NAU captured its first SLC-II title and became the first team from the program to represent NAU at the MCLA National Tournament.
As Arizona continues to grow the game, our state has also expanded to box lacrosse.
In 2015, the first Arizona team represented the state at the USBOXLA Nationals in Los Angeles. The Arizona Box Lacrosse (AZBOXLA) experience is focused on athletic and skill development, personal growth, fun and support in the youth box lacrosse process. Founder and Director Bill Casey believes playing box lacrosse is one of the greatest experiences that a young athlete will have in their sporting career.
AZBOXLA has had many successful tournaments, earning its first bronze medal at Denver Elites’ Battle in the Box Tournament in 2018, a silver medal at the 2018 USBOXLA Nationals, and finishing up the year with a bronze at Vegas Box Lacrosse Invitational. In 2021, AZBOXLA brought home the silver and bronze medals in summer national tournaments.
Arizona Outlaws is the other team that represents the state in box. The Outlaws’ mission is to teach the game of box lacrosse while continuing to develop the skills of young lacrosse players across the Valley. Founder Ben Prepchuck is a former NLL player who has brought his knowledge to the team he coaches. At Vegas Box Lacrosse Invitational in 2017, the Arizona Outlaws took home their first gold medal and earned a silver in the Peewee Division. The Outlaws continued their success in 2021 at the San Diego Seals Shootout, achieving gold in the Bantam Division and silver in the Elite Division.
As lacrosse continues to grow in Arizona, passionate coaches will continue to lead clinics, practices, and games for the success of the sport throughout the Valley. The high school level is becoming more and more competitive with box and field programs refining our athletes’ skills. Lastly, Arizona’s college lacrosse programs have captured several conference championships and a national title.
Arizona is growing the game.