Gear up. Lacrosse is coming to Brenau University.
Written by Karen Rosen
Brenau University Athletic Director Mike Lochstampfor said the time is right for the fastest-growing school sport in the nation, lacrosse, to join the Golden Tigers’ intercollegiate athletics program.
Lochstampfor plans to hire a head coach this summer and begin recruiting student-athletes and marketing the program in the fall. The plan is to be ready to play the first Brenau lacrosse games in February 2018.
“It’s such a popular sport right now with the momentum it’s gained at the youth level and in high schools,” Lochstampfor said. “Even internally, we’ve had some requests from some of our current students.”
Lochstampfor said university officials have been discussing the addition of lacrosse for a few years.
“It’s the logical choice to proceed with that as our next big venture,” he said. “We’ve gotten all of our other sports solidified.”
Lacrosse will be Brenau’s 11th distinct National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-recognized competitive sport, complementing cross country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, swimming, track and field, tennis, golf, and softball. That does not count the three separate cheerleading programs, junior varsities in softball and basketball as well as the soon-to-be inaugurated indoor track program. The lacrosse team will probably comprise 18 to 20 players, with the roster size gradually increasing to as many as 30. A standard schedule is 15 to 18 games.
Lochstampfor said Brenau will initially seek games against nearby schools that already sponsor the sport, such as Reinhardt University, a former conference rival, which added women’s lacrosse in 2010. He said it won’t matter initially if Brenau, a member of the NAIA, competes against schools from the NAIA or NCAA Division II or III.
Roots in Georgia
Lacrosse, or a game similar to it, has strong roots in North Georgia. The city of Ball Ground, Georgia, was named for the fields on which Cherokee people played an aggressive brand of stick ball. Native Americans also played a form of lacrosse in the Great Lakes region and Mid-Atlantic seaboard.
Colleges have embraced the fast-paced sport. Growth in men’s and women’s lacrosse across all NCAA divisions surpassed all other sports from 2000 to 2014. Women’s lacrosse increased by 109 percent (from 225 teams to 470) and accounts for the eighth-largest total of student-athletes across all sports.
In the NAIA, 30 schools are competing in women’s lacrosse during the 2015-16 season. Lacrosse is entering its second year with “invitational sport” status, a precursor to eventually becoming a championship sport once enough member institutions participate.
Lochstampfor said Brenau will apply to join the National Women’s Lacrosse League, whose members include NAIA schools Reinhardt, Truett-McConnell and SCAD Savannah. The organization has its own championship.
Although the growth in the sport at the college level will make recruiting more competitive, Lochstampfor pointed out that girls’ lacrosse has experienced phenomenal growth at the high school level, especially in Georgia and other states in the region from which Brenau draws most of its athletes. The National Federation of State High School Associations reported that high school lacrosse has grown by 150 percent since 2001 and girls’ lacrosse has grown significantly more than the boys’ sport to the point at which it has now cracked the top 10 high school sports based on the number of participants – about 85,000 in the nation last year. By comparison, boys’ lacrosse ranked 11th.
The Georgia High School Association said that in 2015 there were more than 90 high school lacrosse teams in the state. And they are producing some blue chip athletes even for traditional lacrosse environments like the Ivy League and NCAA Division I schools in the Northeast. As “Exhibit A,” Diana Zakem of Westminster School in Atlanta was the first high school player from Georgia to play on a Division I National Championship team when her Princeton Tigers won the NCAA crown in 2003. Also, Major League Lacrosse has held its last two championship games in Kennesaw, Georgia, about 60 miles southwest of Brenau’s Gainesville historic campus.
Getting the ball rolling
However, finding a field on which to practice and play is “part of the big puzzle,” Lochstampfor said. The lacrosse program could eventually have a home at the new $4.4 million athletics facility being built at the historic New Holland textile mill village, about two miles from campus. So far, only the softball portion of the park is under construction. The home for soccer, lacrosse and other field sports is part of Phase II of the development, which will not progress until the university puts necessary financing in place.
Although soccer and lacrosse could share a field because they do not overlap seasons, they produce different wear patterns, so Lochstampfor also has been in touch with local high schools and other entities about using their fields.
“Many colleges have gone to an artificial turf exclusively because it seems to work better for sports like lacrosse,” he said. “Anything’s a possibility as we look at it and try to figure out the best plan of action.”
Brenau currently has 180 athletes competing in varsity sports. With the addition of lacrosse and indoor track, the total could go up to about 220, comprising about 25 percent of the Brenau Women’s College enrollment on the Gainesville campus.
“My goal has been to add something every year or every other year,” Lochstampfor said. “We’ve been able to do that, despite the fact it’s sometimes a little of a challenge to determine where they will be competing and training.
“Fortunately, we’re blessed to be in an area that’s receptive to our growth. Gainesville and Hall County opened their arms to our teams and allow us to form these relationships to use their facilities. That has been a great part of our success.”