By Charlie DiSturco SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — Since its creation by Native Americans in the northeast, lacrosse remained to its local roots for years. But, the sport is finally spreading rapidly across the United States.
In 2015, Denver took home the national championship, marking the first time a team west of the Mississippi won the Division I championship. A 10-5 win over Maryland only proved that lacrosse has spread toward the west coast.
Each year, participation in lacrosse has increased while other recreational sports decline. A report from the Wall Street Journal says that between 2008 and 2012, lacrosse participation increased 158 percent.
“I can think of days where I would look at our opponent’s recruiting rosters,” SU head coach John Desko said, “and I knew everybody that was going to their school because we recruited the same players.”
The Syracuse men’s lacrosse head coach has been at the helm of the program for 19 years. He’s recruited from the small pool of lacrosse players that, until recently, has largely been in the northeast region.
“Nowadays, I’m lucky out of the 12, 13, 14-man roster incoming class of another school, I’m lucky if I know two or three players that are on the list.”
Desko has won five NCAA championships with Syracuse, continuing a sustained success in central New York from past coaches. On his current roster, just 15 players are outside the northeast.
And the famed No. 22 and No. 11 jerseys, given to the best player and defensive player, respectively, are both from Jamesville-DeWitt (New York) High School. Those are two of just 32 players on SU from New York state.
One of Desko’s most notable players outside the northeast is senior faceoff specialist and All-American Ben Williams. He hails from Minnesota, a state known more for its lakes than lacrosse.
Minnesota had no high school lacrosse teams in 2006, according to a study by the National Federation of State High School Associations. More than 10 years later, that number sits at 103.
“I’d been hearing that there was a lot of momentum in Minnesota,” former Inside Lacrosse analyst John Jiloty said. “(Ben) was clarification at the time.”
Alongside the game rapidly spreading and media coverage beginning to pick up lacrosse games, the expansion of the sport also comes from lacrosse athletes relocating and spreading the game around the country.
“You’re seeing players from Maryland, from New York,” ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said. “They’ve relocated to Florida, they’ve relocated to Arizona, they’ve relocated to California. And they’re teaching the game.”
The NCAA lists just 69 Division I teams as of the 2017 season. Of those, 28 — more than a third — are outside of the northeast. Many colleges have added lacrosse programs in recent years and that trend is expected to continue.
Eventually, the northeast may not even be known anymore for its surplus of lacrosse talent. Instead, it may one day be best known – simply as the place where lacrosse got started.
“It’s no longer just a northeast game,” Dixon said.