The nation’s fastest-growing intercollegiate sport is on campus this spring as Cornell College enters its inaugural season for men’s and women’s lacrosse.
Both Ram teams will play 15 regular-season games, spanning roughly two months. Cornell’s home contests are held on the artifical turf at Ash Park Stadium.
Cornell’s men, coached by Andy Bonasera, opened their season Feb. 24 at home against Dubuque. Coach Lauren Martin’s women’s team made its home debut Feb. 28 against Elmhurst.
“Fans are going to see a quick, fast-paced game,” said Martin, who was a standout player at NCAA Division II Lees-McRae College in North Carolina. “Lacrosse incorporates a lot of different sports. I like the history of it. It’s an up-and-coming game that I think will spread across the U.S.”
The men will compete in the seven-team Midwest Lacrosse Conference (MLC), which includes Aurora University, Beloit College, Benedictine University, Concordia University Wisconsin, Fontbonne University, and Milwaukee School of Engineering. Bonasera’s initial roster features 18 players from 10 states.
The women are members of the Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference (MWLC), an eight-team league comprising Aurora University, Beloit College, Benedictine University, Concordia University Wisconsin, Cornell, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loras College, and Wartburg College. Martin has players representing seven states on her roster.
The top four teams in the MLC and MWLC qualify for their respective conference tournaments in early May. The champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Lacrosse is relatively new to most Midwesterners and Cornellians. Statistical data indicates the sport is quickly gaining momentum, particularly at the Division III level.
This spring, 270 of 450 Division III membership institutions sponsored women’s lacrosse, for a growth rate of 25 percent since 2012. Participation growth numbers are similar on the men’s side.
“Lacrosse is its own unique thing,” said Bonasera, a four-time All-American player at Roanoke College in Virginia. “The men’s game has the nonstop action of hockey, the back-and-forth of basketball, the size of field more like soccer, and the physicality of football.”
Fans will notice the many differences between the men’s and women’s game, perhaps most notably the physicality. The women are allowed very little contact, whereas the men’s games feature frequent “ground ball scrums and whacking sticks” to gain position.
The women have 12 players on the field, the men 10. The positions are similar to soccer with defenders, midfielders, attackers and a goalie.
The women play two 30-minutes halves, the men four 15-minute quarters. There are no ties in lacrosse. The women settle the outcome starting with two 3-minute overtime periods, while the men use a sudden death (first goal wins) format.
The playing area dimensions are similar in size to football. For the women, the field is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide. The men’s field is the same length, but wider on the sidelines.
Unlike soccer, the lacrosse goal is placed ahead of the end line and allows players to attack from behind the net. The space between the goal and back line is 10 yards for women, 15 for men.
“That’s the fun part,” Bonasera said. “The game goes behind the goal, which is different than some other sports.”
Lacrosse is played with a solid rubber ball, a bit smaller than a baseball. The women’s ball is yellow, the men’s white. The object is to sling the ball into a 6×6-foot goal. Shots can be fired up to 90-100 miles per hour in the men’s game, according to Bonasera.
The women’s field sticks are uniform in size with a rubber-like netted pocket on the end used for catching, passing and shooting. The men’s sticks have a deeper pocket and vary in length, with defenders using the longest.
Women’s players wear jersey tops, skirts, goggles and a mouth guard. A helmet and chest protector is added for the goalie. The men have more protective gear, including a helmet, gloves, elbow pads and shoulder/chest pad.
The average score for a Division III women’s lacrosse team is roughly 12 goals per game. Men’s teams average about 10 goals per contest.
Shots, goals, assists, saves, ground balls, draw controls, face-offs, clears, turnovers, caused turnovers, offsides and cards are statistical terms displayed in a box score.
“Usually the team with more ground balls wins the game,” Bonasera said. “I think fans are going to be impressed by the speed of the game. There’s a lot of action. You need good stick skills, quickness, strength and stamina. All sizes can play.”
“The game requires a lot of athleticism,” Martin said. “Lacrosse is tougher to play than it looks.”