Australia is no stranger to lacrosse. I played for the Woodville Warriors for a season in South Australia a few years back now (time flies!). The origins of my club alone date back to being founded in 1899! In lacrosse’s prime years, before World War II, clubs and teams were popping up all over Australia from farm towns to major cities.
There’s been a lull in growth in recent decades, and some clubs have even experienced a decline in numbers with popularity for Australian rules football at an all-time high.
Recently, however, lacrosse has gotten a kick in the pants and is growing in regions not traditionally popular for the sport. The good word has been spreading in Queensland and New South Wales. More games are being played and junior programs are popping up as a result of school programs.
Traditionally lacrosse has lived in the Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria. These three states boast 95% or so (total guess) of Australia’s total lacrosse populous, but even these states have experienced some stagnation.
To remedy, lacrosse has been refocused on giving opportunities to children in schools. There’s also a (relatively) new focus on getting university-aged people to give it a try.
Most recently, lacrosse has even made its debut at the University Games. The University Games are a gathering of competing collegiate programs across a vast array of sports. Finally, lacrosse has joined rank.
While you’ve got a pretty good notion of what lacrosse looks like in your head, be it men’s or women’s, this was a slightly adapted version to ensure accessibility to all participants. If you’re familiar with “sofcrosse” this would probably be most relatable to that. A social, non-contact, 5 on 5 game would be played by teams of mixed genders, ages, and ability levels.
Welcome to the Uni Games
Five teams, from four universities, representing two states, in Australia came together in Geelong, Victoria. Swinburne University of Technology brought two teams and were joined by fellow Victorian school Australian Catholic University. The University of Adelaide and University of South Australia represented South Australia.
The game was marketed as “Lacrosse Fives.” It’s a versatile and adaptable game that can be played indoors or outside. To accommodate for space this particular holding of the games was held on a basketball court.
Swinburne’s premier team set the tone early, finishing as the only undefeated team after Day 1. They took care of UniSA, as well as victory in the “Battle of the ‘Burnes” over Swinburne’s second-tier team.
However, Adelaide Uni caused an upset in the first match of Day 2 with a one goal win over Swinburne’s top team. With UniSA having defeated Adelaide Uni on Day 1, at the conclusion of the round robin matches, there were three teams sitting on 3 victories and 1 defeat.
A three-way tie for first is honestly what you’re looking for in the emergence of a new sport. Close games and competitive standings are much more fun than getting blown out by forty, or even blowing someone out by forty.
Talking the Playoffs
With places determined by goal difference, Swinburne’s A squad were seeded first, Adelaide second, and UniSA third coming into the semi-finals. ACU claiming the last semi final spot, on account of their victory over the winless Swinburne B’s.
The semifinal matches were in contrast to each other, with Swinburne (1) easily accounting for ACU. Meanwhile Adelaide Uni broke UniSA hearts in the all-South-Australian encounter in winning by the narrowest of margins. This of course, would set up an intriguing interstate gold medal game in a country that takes its sibling rivalries very seriously!
The bronze medal game saw UniSA take on a spirited ACU in a tight tussle. It finished with the South Australians pulling away near the end of the match to claim a podium finish.
The grand final game was one for the ages. In a see-sawing contest, the lead exchanged several times with spirits and emotions running high. The match got quite willing toward the end. Swinburne took back the lead in the last few minutes and pulled away for a famous victory as inaugural Uni Games lacrosse gold medalists.
Growing the Game
Lacrosse’s appearance at a University Games for the first time has provided a wonderful opportunity. It’s a step forward for development of our sport and the raising of its profile at this level.
It’s all with a similar aim as the FIL has in getting lacrosse into the Olympic Games. Having lacrosse take part in a high profile, multi-sport event, such as the University Games, will be of enormous benefit to our sport.
These platforms work to increase exposure, get new audiences, and ultimately grow in numbers. They put lacrosse on the same plane as other more popular sports.
We are looking forward to lacrosse being part of Uni Games again next year. The hope is to expand not just in the numbers, but including more regions of the country. More information about development programs for lacrosse in Australia and New Zealand can be found at the UniLax website and Facebook page.
This article was written in cooperation between myself (Brian) and my great friend Luke Oswald. Luke has a relentless passion for growing lacrosse in Australia and has put sticks into countless hands. If you’d like to learn more about playing lacrosse in Australia, or even if you’d just like to say hello, feel free to reach out to Luke’s email or my own email.
Lacrosse is a game I’ve been playing since I was five years old. I’m forever grateful that I’ve had it this long, but the game isn’t just for those of us who’ve been playing since the cradle. Awesome programs like “lacrosse fives”, sofcrosse, 3x, and Speed Lacrosse are excellent ways to include others and grow the game.