Peer pressure gets a bad reputation but there is positive peer pressure as well.
Young adults are always open to a new sport, especially if their friends are doing it.
Lacrosse (“lax” to those in the know) has gained popularity among all ages up and down the west coast, especially in the Bay Area, over the past few years.
There are currently four high school boys lacrosse leagues, and three girls lacrosse leagues in the Central Coast Section.
Not enough to sponsor a postseason tournament but enough interest that it will eventually earn its own CCS tournament.
Menlo-Atherton girls lacrosse coach Juliet Mittlemann, in an exclusive with the Weekly, explained the reasons for the rise in popularity of the sport.
“There are many factors why lacrosse is becoming so popular in Northern California, but to name the most dominant few would be: 1, climate; 2, field availability; 3, social and economic accessibility; 4, the prevalence of people wanting to coach at a higher level and players wanting to extend their immersion in the sport year round.” said Mittlemann.
Mittlemann has coached lacrosse for sixteen years and is in her fourth season at M-A. In addition, she serves as the Sub-Regional Chair for the Women's National Tournament.
This is a tournament designed for high school players or high school club team varsity level players in grades 9-11, that are affiliated with a high school and playing in the high school spring season.
It is an opportunity for players to showcase their talent along with others from the Northern California region and to be able to compete at the highest level of HS lacrosse in the country. It almost makes a possible CCS tournament seem quaint by example.
Mittlemann also started her own Lacrosse club, Norcal RIZE, one year ago, because of the increasing demand for Lacrosse resources.
“In the last five to eight years big collegiate programs, Stanford, Cal, Oregon and USC have put California on the map as extremely competitive NCAA programs,” Mittlemann said. “Young athletes and high school player aspirations to play at the collegiate level are far more realistic than ever before. More high school and collegiate programs are offering lacrosse at every level, allowing the sport to have a direction liaison to where student-athletes enroll.”
Menlo School grad Michaela Michael and Palo Alto grad Nina Kelty, for example, have been part of USC’s rise to national prominence the past four years.
Chris Rotelli, the Sacred Heart Prep boys coach the last four years, agrees with Mittlemann that the sport has grown tremendously in California.
“(The players) are starting earlier, and there are more good teams then there ever have been,” said Rotelli. “There are 20 to 30 good teams in northern California, it was not that way five to ten years ago.”
Greg Weigel, who coaches lacrosse at Menlo school, has played lacrosse for approximately 26 years. He believes the sport is growing because of the tight-knit community that comes from with it.
“It just feels good to hit people and to get hit, there’s a lot that goes into that,” added Weigel. “Lacrosse just gives kids some freedom.”
Weigel also said “the bottom of the funnel has effectively stayed the same size but the top has gotten a lot bigger.”
What he means is that there is suddenly a larger supply of players from California, Nevada, Texas, and other huge population centers, and with that the sport is able to become more and more competitive. Weigel doesn’t see any growth at the D-1 level, however.
When playing in high school, many players ask themselves, “what’s next for me?” Some go on to play in college, whether that means joining the club team or looking for a Division 1 team.
Rotelli sees that many kids playing high school lacrosse have dreams to go to college and play.
Grace Tully, currently a senior at M-A, committed to Denison University, where she will join her brother, Will, a sophomore on the men’s lacrosse team, which is currently ranked third in the Division III South Region.
Tully originally picked up a stick in second grade and then started playing competitive lacrosse in eighth grade after some encouragement from her brother.
After Tully began playing in middle school, she encouraged a friend to join her. Emma Easton, also a senior at M-A, committed to UC Santa Barbara and is unsure about playing in college.
Kelly Wood, also at M-A, began playing her freshman year and has committed to Cal. She is undecided about playing lacrosse in college.
Wood says she is not as competitive as some of her teammates, but instead sees lacrosse as an escape from her school work and the pressures of her daily life.
Grace Carlson, currently a sophomore on the lax team at M-A began playing in fourth grade and is already interested in playing in college.
“No one joins a sport with a low ceiling” said Weigel. “The kids that actively want to play collegiately filter up.”
All players and coaches agree with one another that the sport has grown drastically in the last decade or so.
In addition to playing, many players have picked up coaching as well.
The youth lacrosse club, the Grizzlies, has segments all over the country that coaches lacrosse to kids under 8 to under 14 years old. It has a chapter in the Menlo-Atherton area. The staff consists of high school students and the M-A chapter is overseen by Mittlemann, where she also coaches the under 14 team.
Rotelli mentioned that players just love the game and that they are giving back to it through coaching and it is helping the sport grow all over the country.
“Most of (the Menlo) staff are recent graduates. Even while playing, the boys tend to coach,” said Weigel. “We try to limit that, since we want more seasoned players (to coach).”
It ultimately shows the commitment to the sport.
Easton, Carlson, and Tully have each picked up coaching a Grizzlies team in their spare time. They gain coaching experience by working with Mittlemann.
“I love (coaching). It’s not what I do for the girls, but what the girls do for me,” Easton said. “You can see the difference and commitment to the sport from the girls.”
With so many kids picking up the sport as early as seven years old, and students coaching in high school, lacrosse could soon become one of the most popular sports in high schools. It’s clear the passion that comes with the sport will continue to grow in the community.