For much of the 20th Century, the eight counties located in the southern half of New Jersey were one of the minor hotbeds of girls’ lacrosse in America.
The game provided a secondary stick-and-ball outlet for field hockey players in the springtime, giving individual athletes valuable training in the use of space as well as a way to keep fit.
The parallels were obvious: the teams that were good in field hockey would be good in the game of lacrosse. The duopoly of Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.) and Moorestown (N.J.) was no accident, as dual-sport athletes from both schools reinforced their greatness through the 1990s and into the 2000s.
But that was when there was only one public-school champion for girls’ lacrosse in New Jersey. Over the weekend, four NJSIAA champions were crowned. And none of them are from southern New Jersey.
Instead, your 2016 Tournament of Champions will feature top-seeded Summit (N.J.), second seed Ridgewood (N.J.), third seed Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), and fourth seed Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.).
Now, if some of these teams look familiar, they should. Summit made the Group 3 semifinals in field hockey last fall, while Rumson won Group 2 and Oak Knoll won the Non-Public championship (which is not contested in girls’ lacrosse). The crossovers in terms of athleticism and team chemistry still exist, but this spring, South Jersey was completely shut out of championship hardware.
It’s a shift more than two decades in the making in the Garden State; it was only around 1993 when cities and towns with major boys’ lacrosse programs started developing programs for girls’ lacrosse, both at the youth level and at their high schools.
The effects were immediate; by 1997, Flemington Hunterdon Central (N.J.) graduated Quinn Carney, who would win four NCAA championships, an FIL World Cup, and entrance to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Other towns known primarily for boys’ lacrosse, such as Ridgewood, Mendham, Summit, and Mountain Lakes would devote more resources to girls’ lacrosse, and that culminated in Summit’s defeat of Moorestown in the 1999 all-group state title match.
But to have no South Jersey state championship teams in girls’ lacrosse? The unthinkable has happened.