by Chloey Mayo ’10
America’s oldest sport is set to become Oglethorpe University’s newest. Men’s lacrosse will officially debut on the fields of Oglethorpe in spring 2011, but it has already become evident across campus, with the sight of never-before-seen lacrosse sticks and gear toted around campus.
“We have always thought it to be a great addition to our program,” said Coach Jay Gardiner, director of OU athletics. “The sport attracts a quality group of student-athletes, those who are a good fit to our school.” Referencing the tendency for Ivy League and academically-focused college lacrosse teams to do well, Coach Gardiner added that “it seemed to make sense. It brings in extra 20-25 men from areas in the region that tend to feed our university, including Atlanta itself.
Lacrosse has Native American roots and over time has developed into a modern mix of basketball, soccer, and field hockey. While the game has taken some time to establish itself in many places across the country, in recent years its popularity has grown tremendously, especially in the Southeast. As more Southern high school and collegiate teams add the sport to their varsity line-ups, the Stormy Petrels seem to have good timing. The majority of the players on Oglethorpe’s inaugural team are underclassmen and the historical significance of playing on this newly-created team is not lost on the players.
“I definitely feel like we have the chance to establish ourselves as whatever kind of team we want to be,” said sophomore Zach Galatian. “There are no expectations to live up to and that helps the team play a more fun and exciting brand of lacrosse. As far as the feel of lacrosse,” he adds, “everyone who sees our practices seems intrigued and interested in the sport and I think that will help more than anything else to establish the sport’s longevity here.”
Anyone who attends one of their pre-season, self-led practices would be intrigued. Months away from their season opener, they are exploring each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and they seem to have built a solid camaraderie that is usually present in more mature, older teams. Part of the charm of this squad is not only its novelty, but also how quickly they seem to have formed a working bond. Older athletes stop play to give advice to the younger, less experienced, and, though there are no formal captains yet, some players seem to have assumed leadership roles within the group. There is a seriousness in their demeanor, but they seem just as serious about enjoying their sport.
“Because we’re from all different areas of the country we bring different styles of play to the table,” said Galatian, who will play alongside his younger brother Sam this spring. “At this point, we’re all learning from one another. Everyone is really excited to play…so we’ve been practicing, eating, and generally hanging out with one another as much as possible. I think that’s where that friendship comes from.”
Though the Petrels are entering the conference line-up as a young team, they are in good company. The SCAC hosts five considerably new lacrosse teams, many with rosters full of underclassmen. The standout team to beat is Colorado College, which finished first in the conference last season with an overall record of 10-2 and an undefeated conference record.
“We are certainly not out of our league,” said Coach Gardiner, acknowledging his team’s stellar prep careers. “We are not going in any game with fear. Of course there will be some trying times, but we do have a good quality group of athletes and we feel confident that we’ve got some leaders, and they’ll emerge as stars.”
Coach Gardiner assumes the role of head coach after having played and coached lacrosse at McDaniel College, a Division III program in Maryland. “It is a ‘rebirth’ for me, in a sense,” admits Coach Gardiner, who has been involved in the sport since he was seven years old. “It’s exciting to coach such a well-mannered, solid group of young men. They are an amazing group of unmatched character and we want them to be known as a group of respectful and driven athletes. As a team, of course, we want to win and we want to succeed, but the emphasis here is to develop that quality of character that extends beyond their years here.”
- Lacrosse is played using a small solid rubber ball and a long-handled racquet called a crosse –or lacrosse stick. To score, a player must shoot the ball into their opponent’s goal, using the lacrosse stick to catch, carry, and pass the ball to their teammates.
- Men’s lacrosse uses 10 players—a goalie, three defensemen, three midfielders, and three attack men.
- Lacrosse is played on a field that is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide—about the size of a standard soccer field.
In lacrosse, players are not allowed to tackle like football players. Instead they perform a block called body checking. Body checking is permitted if the opponent has the ball or is within five yards of a loose ball. All body contact must occur from the front or side, above the waist and below the shoulders, and with both hands on the stick. Aggressive body checking is discouraged.
A player may gain possession of the ball by dislodging it from an opponent’s crosse with a stick check, the controlled poking and slapping of the possessive players’ stick and gloved hands.