Posted by: cpisar | May 5, 2010

At a Lacrosse Road

At a Lacrosse Road

The origin of lacrosse can be traced all the way back to 12th century AD where Native Americans played the game as part of a religious ritual, to heal the sick, or even resolve conflict.

Nowadays, it is still played in America but mostly on the East coast.

The sport’s hotbed lies along the Atlantic coastline in places such as Virginia, New York, Maryland and New Jersey.

And while lacrosse is seen largely as an East-coast sport, it still has its place in Southern California where the University of Southern California has fielded a men’s club lacrosse team for the last 34 years.

With such a rich history of lacrosse in the East, what makes the game so much different from that of the West?

USC coach David Aktary thinks the differences are obvious, especially with the players.

“It’s night and day,” said Aktary. “It’s a different kind of athlete that you’re looking at here. You are looking at students who are students first and athletes second. With Division I it’s kind of the other way around.”

All of the athletes at the elite schools are over 6-foot, over 200 pounds and can shoot the ball 90-plus MPH righty or lefty, said Aktary.

Despite Aktary’s remarks, one member of the USC lacrosse team finds the level of competition to be quite comparable.

“The biggest difference is whether it’s Division 1 or club because all of the clubs are pretty similar,” said senior LSM Jeff Gleiberman.

But even after 30-plus years of existence, the team has little to show for their blood, sweat and tears.

Their lone title came back in 2002 when they topped Saint Mary’s for the West Coast Lacrosse League Division B Championship, according to the team’s website.

This year’s 35-man roster has compiled a record of 6-5, good for third place in the North/West portion of the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference Division 1, competing against the likes of perennial-power Chapman and up-and-comer Arizona State. Their conference is part of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which is home to all of the top-level club teams across the nation.

Mediocre record aside, the team has come a long way since the hiring of Aktary nearly two years ago.

“Above .500 is very good for us,” said Gleiberman of the team’s performance this season.

That sentiment comes as no surprise, especially considering Aktary described the team as “beer league” when he first arrived.

“It is definitely a culture change,” said Aktary of his challenge to rebuild the program. “When I came in it was one of my goals to make that big turnaround happen.”

And that big turnaround all started with his 5-year plan. 

The first order of business: to get all of the pieces in place, including an alumni organization and a booster club, to provide fund raising and support for the team.

Once the support system is in place, that will allow the team to actually being recruiting, said Aktary.

Getting someone to play for your squad is one thing, but getting them admitted into a school with USC’s admission standards is another.

“Academically you have to be really sharp to get in here,” said Aktary. “If you are talking about a top lacrosse player he’s probably dedicating a lot of time to that and maybe not as much to academics so maybe he’ll go D-I or maybe he’ll go to school that can walk him right through the front door.”

A profile of the most recent incoming freshman class shows that only 24 percent of those that applied to USC were accepted. Not to mention the mean GPA of 3.8 and an SAT score of around 2,000.

That being said, what good does it do to have a team with nowhere to practice or play?

The team currently calls Cromwell Field at Katherine B. Loker Stadium its home, but it has no dedicated facility.

The field is shared with many others, most notably track and field, but also the band as well as the general student population.

“It’s super hard to get this field,” said Gleiberman.

In fact, they have to utilize the intramural field just to get in their four weekly practices.

But with the help of Aktary, that may not be the case in the near future.

“There is something in the works now where they’re going to be possibly building a lacrosse field in the next 4-7 years,” said Aktary.

Facilities aren’t the only problem, funding is also a major issue.

“There is so much more I’d like to be doing right now but I can’t because of budget constraints,” said Aktary.

The team’s annual budget is roughly $100,000 and nearly all of that money comes from the player’s dues which are about $2,000 per season, depending on whether or not you are a returning player, said Aktary.

USC’s $100,000 lacrosse budget is a far cry from the “near-varsity teams” such as Michigan who have budgets in the $600,000 range, said Aktary.

Part of the solution: a lacrosse position camp held every summer that will not only help provide funding, but will also help to recruit.

But this idea is nothing new.

“When I told the administration that I wanted to do a camp they laughed because my four predecessors said they wanted to do it but they never did,” said Aktary.

Despite what looks like a promising future, the hopes of taking the team to the varsity level are bleak.

Not just for the reasons discussed above, but also because of Title IX.

“Because of that it is highly unlikely that USC will ever have a true varsity program,” said Aktary.

If it were to happen it would require major funding from an outside source, and other west coast club teams making the jump to varsity in order to cut down on travel, said Aktary.

But not all hope is lost. USC could aspire to the next best thing, a varsity club team.

Take Chapman University for example, they have a varsity club team that runs as a varsity team but does not receive any varsity dollars. The same goes for club powerhouse Michigan, who has won the last two MLCA titles.

While USC isn’t quite yet at that level, one player believes they are well on their way.

“I definitely think it’s going to grow out here,” said senior midfielder Matthew Williams. “I’ve driven around and see younger kids playing out here and that’s what it’s like back home [in North Carolina] and in the Northeast.”

The sport has it’s roots in the Northeast and that’s still the case. Check out this map to see where Div. 1 lacrosse is played:

Unfamiliar with the sport? Check out some lacrosse lingo:


Related Links: USC Men’s LacrosseLAXICON

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