Lacrosse-ing over to a new era

Joseph Edgecomb / The Collegian

While many in the Valley don’t know exactly what women’s lacrosse is, Fresno State head coach Sue Behme can tell you what it’s not.

It’s not men’s lacrosse.

“All the rules are completely different,” said Behme, a 14-year coaching veteran. “We’re one of the only sports where that’s the case.”

Besides the similarity in the ball and the goal, some examples where the two sports differ is the amount of time played, the uniform, the lacrosse stick and the amount of physical contact.

However, this doesn’t mean that a women’s lacrosse team is any less dedicated or competitive than a men’s lacrosse team – or any other sport for that matter. And with only a month and a half of practice under its belt, the brand new program at Fresno State has to develop that competitive nature quickly.

“In such a short period of time, from Sept. 15 to now, we’re having competitive practices,” Behme said. “Technically and tactically, where we are right now is where we should be.”

The team, however, might have a lot of catching up to do in the eyes of the community.

Announced in January in order to maintain Title IX compliance, the inaugural women’s lacrosse team at Fresno State joins a curriculum of sports that are well known in the Valley. Lacrosse, on the other hand, is largely an East Coast sport that is just developing in the West. Because of this, the addition of a lacrosse team in Fresno was welcomed with mixed reviews.

However, any unfavorable attitude toward the program has not reached the coaching staff or the 24 players.

“This thing could have been ugly,” Behme said. “And it is the complete opposite.”

Joseph Edgecomb / The Collegian

Many players contacted Behme when they found out that there was going to be a program at Fresno State. Others attended the open tryouts in August. Behme even had to cut some players because there were just too many.

Interest in the new program brought out more athletes that had never played before, compared to those that had prior experience. Five on the team have played lacrosse, while 19 had never stepped foot on a lacrosse field.

“I started training in the first grade,” sophomore Heather Jack said.

Teammate Marshai Iverson turned to Jack and laughed.

“I started training a month and a half ago,” Iverson said.

As practices continue, the large gap in experience between the players is quickly disappearing.

“The 19 have caught up to the five,” Behme said. “The fact that those five players do have experience balances us out.”

Jack – whose dad was a lacrosse coach and has played in Maryland, Texas and Nevada – stays optimistic about her inexperienced team and its upcoming 2009 season because there are other programs that are just starting out as well. The main difference is that while the other new programs had years to recruit and train, Fresno State only had months to do the same.

“I believe that since we’re a new program we have nothing to lose,” Iverson said of the young team and the upcoming season.

Their season begins in February when they will play against Cal, who is one of the teams the Bulldogs play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation along with Stanford, UC Davis, Oregon, Saint Mary’s and Denver. They’ll also face nationally ranked teams like Johns Hopkins.

“To get any respect in lacrosse, you have to play the best teams,” Behme said. “These guys aren’t afraid to play anybody. Why lessen the schedule when we want to build the team up?”

Bulldog sports fans that want to find out what exactly women’s lacrosse is all about can see the team play four home games at Bulldog Stadium.

“I’m so excited,” Jack said of playing in Bulldog Stadium. “Every time I go into the stadium I’m like ‘Just a couple more months.’”

Yet, the lacrosse team might not have as much fanfare in its first season compared to other sports, like football, that Bulldog Stadium also hosts. Because of its unknown nature, the athletic department is working on introducing the team to the Valley, and hopefully making lacrosse a Valley sport.

To help develop the sport in the community, players and coaches clinics are scheduled for November and December. even has a blog teaching Lacrosse 101, which will also soon present demonstrations by the women’s lacrosse players.

“It’s a comprehensive initiative to get people knowledgeable on the sport before the season starts in February,” Behme said.

In the meantime, the players and coaches like the fact that they’re not only different from any other sport in the Valley, but also unknown and perhaps even underestimated. They enjoy playing the role of the underdog.

“No one knows what we’re up to,” Jack said. “Everyone’s going to be surprised.”

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