Sport continues to grow with club teams at high schools
RIDGEFIELD — It is a physical sport, plus it was a rivalry game.
Yes, there were some tense moments on the field Wednesday when Columbia River took on Skyview at Ridgefield High School.
As soon as the game ended, though, handshakes and well wishes were offered. There did not seem to be any hard feelings.
A few players from both squads did go after the game officials … but only in an effort to thank them for their time.
After all, they are all in this together.
Lacrosse players, coaches, officials, game volunteers, and parents all just want to see the game expand in Washington.
Club teams from Skyview and Columbia River met at Ridgefield for their boys match Wednesday night. On another side of the county, Camas and Union played each other.
The number of participants is increasing in girls lacrosse, as well. Evergreen Public Schools has had a varsity girls lacrosse team, sanctioned by the district, for more than 10 years. Two other girls programs in the county are playing a junior varsity schedule.
Boys and girls high school lacrosse teams fill their rosters with athletes from a number of schools. For example, Ridgefield athletes play for nearby Skyview in boys lacrosse. Evergreen girls lacrosse is for athletes from throughout the district.
High school lacrosse is not sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association but the sport still has a playoff system and crowns state champions as a club sport in both boys and girls competition.
In recent years, some of the best lacrosse players in Southwest Washington have gone on to play in college. Now, the next wave of lacrosse talent in the county is trying to follow the ones who paved the way.
Chase Barnett, a senior at Columbia River, plans on playing at Grand Canyon University in Arizona.
“It’s been a large staple in my life. Lacrosse has created some of my fondest relationships and fondest memories,” Barnett said. “The game built me into a well-mannered and strong-character person. It’s given me so much, and I want to continue building on that.”
Barnett will not be receiving athletic scholarship money at Grand Canyon. It is a club sport there, too. The game, a major college sport in the east, is making its way west. Just fewer opportunities on this side of the country, Barnett said.
Still, the opportunity to continue playing lacrosse was key for Barnett, who has earned academic scholarships.
One player who is expected to earn athletic scholarship money in the sport is Vinh Dawkins, a Ridgefield student who plays for Skyview’s club team. A junior, he has announced his intention to sign with St. John’s University in New York City.
Dawkins was part of a traveling team that played against the best of the game on the east coast, where lacrosse soars in popularity.
“It was just, ‘Wow. Damn, these guys can play,’” Dawkins said.
He also knew he wanted to be part of it.
“I wanted to go back east. I wanted to play Division-I lacrosse. And I just wanted to be part of that culture,” Dawkins said. “First time I went to New York, I fell in love. Beautiful city, people are great.”
The offer from St. John’s made him feel he had really made it as an athlete.
“It’s a confidence booster on the field. You don’t have to walk around strutting. It’s just internally. It’s a confidence you couldn’t get before,” he said.
It is not easy to earn a D-I scholarship in any sport. For Northwest lacrosse players, though, it is even more difficult. It is hard to be seen playing in a region not known for its lacrosse history.
“There is that stigma,” Dawkins said. “Hope to change it. I’m looking forward … to representing the Northwest.”
Olivia Hood, a senior at Mountain View, signed with Arizona State. Women’s lacrosse is a sanctioned sport there, and Hood is just a few months away from heading south to realize her dream.
“I wanted nothing less than Division I. I knew what I wanted, so I worked for it,” Hood said. “I’m really proud to represent this area.”
Hood did not play for the Evergreen district team. Instead, she is a long-time traveling club player. The sport is not new to Hood. It was a family thing, so she has been playing since she was 5 years old.
“It’s hard to play. It’s grueling on the body. It’s grueling … to keep in shape to play. But more than anything, it’s fun,” she said. “You have to be tough.”
While she got an early introduction to the game, she understands many people in the Northwest are just now starting to see the sport. Hood said it is not too late to pick up lacrosse.
“If they are willing to work, willing to try, absolutely they have a shot (at excelling),” Hood said. “If someone has an interest, there are people willing to help make it happen.”
It is part of the culture of the sport, she said. Those playing the game in the Northwest know there is a need for more athletes. So coaches and players are always willing to give some of their time.
“Grow the game,” Hood said. “The goal is to grow the game and make it better.”
That was the reasoning behind starting the girls lacrosse team at Evergreen, according to Leta Meyer, the athletic director at Heritage.
“The goal is to provide opportunities for girls who want to play lacrosse,” Meyer said. “We’ve had some pretty darn good players over the years.”
She also said there is a noticeable difference from when the team first started playing last decade.
“The girls didn’t have a lot of stick skills,” she said. “Now you go watch them, the plays they do, the stick skills. That, to me, is really what it’s about, watching kids improve.”
Evergreen lacrosse players earn a varsity letter. They play their home games at McKenzie Stadium. But because there are no other varsity girls programs in the area, all of their road games are quite the distance, the Tacoma and Seattle areas, for example.
With the two JV programs in Clark County, there is hope that more high school girls teams will become varsity in the coming seasons.
In 2016, Union boys lacrosse won the state championship in what was then called Division II.
“I think it showed that lacrosse was up and coming in the area, that there was talent in the area,” Union coach Tim Goodspeed said.
The 2017 Union team, which also included players from Mountain View High School, had 18 seniors — another statistic to show how far the game has come in the region.
Goodspeed grew up in the east, played in high school and college, then moved to the Northwest in the 1970s and joined an adult league. He wants to make the game even better in Southwest Washington. The key, he said, is more youth programs.
“The first few years, you have kids who come out, and they’ve never played. They have to learn the game. They have to learn the stick skills,” he said.
Once youth programs are established, the younger siblings start to take notice of the game, and then they can start at an even earlier age. Years later, those athletes can be starring in high school and potentially be moving on to the college game.
Last year, the high school club teams went to a classification system — 4A, 3A, 2A/1A, and private schools. So while Union, Camas, Skyview, and Columbia River play each other often, once the postseason starts, Columbia River joins the 2A/1A tournament.
“It is part of the move to bring lacrosse into the high school realm and turn it into a sanctioned sport,” Barnett said.
One day perhaps. For now, lacrosse experts say the sport is years away from being sanctioned by the WIAA. Not enough teams just yet.
Sanctioned or not, though, lacrosse has arrived in Southwest Washington. Boys and girls are taking what once was just an east coast sport and putting their own touch of Northwest talent into the game.