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What Happened to UNLV Lacrosse?

There are many Division 1 schools with 20,000+ students that have neither a varsity lacrosse team, nor a club lacrosse team. Most of them have had MCLA teams at one point, but were disbanded for various reasons. MCLA membership has been growing since the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still plenty of schools that are still without a team. This article discusses one of the schools that fits this description, The University of Nevada (UNLV), Las Vegas.

Las Vegas’ growth in professional sports is the fastest among any city in the United States. The Golden Knights of the NHL started playing in 2017. The Aces of the WNBA and LA Lights of FC of the USL both started in 2018. The Raiders of the NFL moved to the city in 2020. The Desert Dogs of the NLL will start playing this season. There have also been some rumors of the city getting an MLB and an NBA team. However, the city is still missing men’s college lacrosse at UNLV.

The team first played in the MCLA in 2006 in the WCLL D2. They only won one game and had about 20 players on the team. Fast forward to 2009, and they successfully made the jump to SLC D1, however numbers still hovered around 20, but Las Vegas lacrosse legend Gary Campo had taken over as coach.

Campo played at Uniondale HS on Long Island and then went on to play at Adelphi where he was a part of the 1979 and 1981 National Championship teams. In 2004, he became the director of the Vegas Starz as well as Head Coach of Bonanza HS where he won three state championships. He is currently the Head Coach of Palo Verde HS where he has won seven State Championships. 

In 2010, the UNLV team hit a big road bump when their best player was suspended for fighting. He then played in the following game he was supposed to be suspended which led to the team not competing at all in the 2011 season. Darren Gagnon, one of the first players for Chapman in the 80s and a Las Vegas native, took over the following year. He continued to coach until their last season and kept the team competitive in a very strong SLC conference. Their last season was 2021 where they played a couple fall and spring games, but did not compete at all in 2022. The reason for this is unknown but it is safe to assume it just came down to a lack of players. 

UNLV still seems to have influence over lacrosse in Las Vegas and in other parts of the country. Many UNLV players currently coach at the high school level in the area and for the Las Vegas Starz club team. Former player Eric Ruppel is currently the HC of NCAA D2 Quincy University. The biggest alumni of the team has to be Jon Cohen. A 2009 grad, Cohen served many positions for the Denver Outlaws right after graduating. Mainly as the Assistant General Manager, an Assistant Coach, and becoming the General Manager in 2019.

During that time the Outlaws were consistently one of the best teams in the professional lacrosse. He is currently the Director of Men’s Lacrosse Operations at Johns Hopkins. Despite UNLV no longer having a lacrosse team, high school lacrosse in Las Vegas is doing very well. There are currently six high schools in Las Vegas and nine high schools in Reno. The Las Vegas Starz, run by Gary Campo, are currently an elite high school summer team that sends many kids to play in college. The state has produced many solid players including former UNC star and current PLL Chrome midfielder, Justin Anderson who played at Centennial HS in Las Vegas.

There are many reasons to have hope that the team will make a comeback. The first and biggest is the arrival of the Desert Dogs. Despite not having played yet, they have already gotten involved in the community by hosting clinics. There have also been some rumors that they may be directly involved with helping restart the club team, but that can not be confirmed in any way so take that with a grain of salt. However, it is very possible that they could indirectly influence someone by inspiring them to restart the team.

Another reason is that other club sports at the school have had success, which gives hope that a men’s lacrosse team can also thrive. The women’s lacrosse team at UNLV currently plays in WWLL D2 of the WCLA and has had consistent numbers and strong leadership through the years, especially now. The men’s hockey team went to the ACHA Final Four this past season and are playing multiple NCAA D1 teams this upcoming season and also get a few NCAA transfers every year. The last reason is that The University of Nevada, Reno, has had success at the MCLA level with rosters of players mainly from Nevada, as well as California and Arizona. It’s safe to assume UNLV’s population is similar to UNR’s so it’s not crazy to think there are talented players at UNLV just like there are at UNR, they just need to organize a team. 

If anyone has more info on the team feel free to share with us, and if anyone wants to restart the team wants help or advice reach out to us.

Twitter: @VarsityLacrosse
Instagram: @varsityclublacrosse