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July 9, 2021 — The state of lacrosse, 2021

The game of lacrosse came out of 2020 with as much uncertainty as when it entered, but emerged with new role models and more than one new platform to publicize the game.

The regrettable aspect of the 2021 spring lacrosse season for U.S. colleges is the number of teams which opted out. The entirety of the Ivy League decided not to play, although individual teams could play friendlies against other colleges located within 75 miles of campus.

The rest of the U.S. college universe, including all three NCAA divisions and the NAIA — leapt back into competition the moment they were allowed to do so. There were some hiccups within some college programs, with some individual schools having to shut themselves down for anywhere from two weeks to an entire month.

But once vaccines became widely available to the general public (and, presumably, to student-athletes), the games started coming thick and fast.

A lot of the NCAA Division I storyline surrounded who could possibly contend with the University of North Carolina, a team which would not only have just about its entire starting lineup back but introduced freshman Caitlyn Wurzburger, who was the only prep player, male or female, with more than 1,000 combined goals and assists.

UNC had an early statement when, in a March 6 game against Boston College, the Tar Heels ran off seven straight goals to begin the second half, and would win the game 21-9.

Attention turned to Syracuse as a possible contender, but on April 3, the Orange lost to UNC by a score of 17-6. Northwestern, a team which put up video game-type numbers, showed itself a contender when it swept 2019 NCAA champion Maryland twice in three days, each by 10-goal margins.

Northwestern won its first 15 games of the season playing a fast type of lacrosse, reminiscent of its style of play in the mid-2000s when it broke onto the scene winning NCAA titles. Many of the scoring plays went through its star forward, Izzy Scane, who poured in 98 goals on the season.

But a few hundred miles to the east, another individual scoring season for the ages was developing. That was by attacker Charlotte North of Boston College. North, when she transferred from Duke before the 2019-20 academic year, recorded herself a number of trick-shot videos which showed an amazing array of stick skills.

She would use that physicality and individual brilliance to take Boston College on her back on a thrilling ride through the NCAA Division I Tournament. Boston College had been beaten in its conference tournament semifinal by Syracuse, but the Eagles got through Fairfield and Notre Dame before facing UNC in the national semifinals, winning 11-10.

Boston College would have a rematch with Syracuse in the national final in Towson, Md., and it was North who was the defining factor. She had six goals in the game, bringing her total to 102, breaking the NCAA record and giving Boston College its first NCAA Division I title with a 16-10 win.

In Division II, Lindenwood College beat Queens University of Charlotte 14-12, while Division III saw Salisbury beat Tufts 14-13.

In the schools, it was a time of transition as many top lacrosse programs had to dodge travel and competition restrictions in order to have a season in 2021. These restrictions had different effects on different areas of the country.

In New York, teams were prevented from playing for a state title this spring. Teams making the postseason could only go as far as their sectional finals. One notable exception was Long Island, where some memorable games featuring the Section VIII and Section XI champions from Nassau and Suffolk counties took place.

Amongst the better private schools in the mid-Atlantic, teams were not allowed to cross state borders in order to meet local rivals. Indeed, the entirety of the schedule for the nation’s finest team of the 2010s, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), was within the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. But the Eagles limped into the IAAM playoffs in 2021, losing two consecutive league matches for the first time since at least 2009.

McDonogh would lose a regular-season game as well as the IAAM final to Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.). A few weeks after that IAAM final, St. Paul’s would feature in winning one of two postseason lacrosse tournaments with regional reach and national aspirations that would be held in late June.

But even while those tournaments were taking place, there was scholastic lacrosse on the docket. Indeed, when Dover-Sherborn (Mass.) beat Harvard Bromfield (Mass.) in the MIAA Division 2 title match on July 2, it marked the latest girls’ lacrosse state championship in at least 25 years.

The 2021 season did have some memorable milestones. In Illinois, a junior named Fran Frieri, an attacking midfielder from Lockport (Ill.) Township, scored 191 goals, more than anyone has ever scored in one season in the recorded history of girls’ scholastic lacrosse.

Players like Frieri are likely to see an evolving game over the next several years, given what has been going on with various platforms of the game. Just this month, the NCAA is allowing athletes to take advantage of name, likeness, and image (NLI) regulations which are seeing many athletes, including women’s lacrosse players, to sign with various promotional businesses in order to make money while being a student-athlete.

In the post-graduate ranks, there is a five-week league called Athletes Unlimited which promises to promote the game and the players in a way never before seen. The four teams are selected by four captains, identified through their performances through various metrics like goals, assists, ground balls, caused turnovers, and the like. Like in the UWLX and the WPLL, the game will be 9-on-9 with a 60-second possession clock.

In addition, you’re beginning to see the lacrosse effort ramping up to have the game at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. The world governing body of the game has already settled on a 6-on-6 variety of the game played on a pitch about the size of a six-man football field.

We don’t know if the Athletes Unlimited folks will transition to the Olympic rules, but it might make an interesting exercise.

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