Two new sports seeking participants: Junior introduces CF women to lacrosse

With a smile plastered across her face, junior Marika Yang shuffled backward, her cleats cutting through the grass, her lacrosse stick in hand. A handful of her friends mimiced the motion beside her.

For last couple of years, Yang has been on a mission at Cedar Falls High School to organize a women’s lacrosse team: a vision that seems to finally be coming to life.

Lacrosse is a contact sport played with 11 players and a goalie on each team. The game is played by using a long stick with a net on the end — a lacrosse stick — to catch, cradle, pass and shoot a small rubber ball into the opposing team’s goal.

Originally played by indigenous people of North America, the sport has diffused around the world and is played by millions of people, including high school girls all over the United States.

However, when Yang relocated from Chicago to Cedar Falls three years ago, she was shocked that Cedar Falls was a place that lacrosse had not reached. No one had played it before, some had never heard of it  and Yang encountered many misconceptions about the sport.

“I did not know much about it,” junior Dalilah Galvez-Rodriguez said. Galvez-Rodriguez tried lacrosse for the first time at the clinic after encouragement from Yang. “I knew there were sticks.  I thought it would be more like field hockey, but it wasn’t.”

Yang, who began playing lacrosse after friends in Chicago introduced her to the sport through a clinic, was left without any team to play the sport she loved. “I love lacrosse because it’s a great sport that involves a lot of personal goal setting and challenges that allow you to grow personally and as a team,” Yang said.

For Yang, organizing the lacrosse team is a goal that she hopes will not only benefit girls who decide to play, but the community as well. “I know that the girls involved [in lacrosse] will benefit greatly from the excitement and fun that come along with playing the sport,” Yang said, “and that people who start to watch will be able to share in that excitement and learn about something new. It’s all a big adventure.”

Because there is no women’s lacrosse team for Yang to play on in the Cedar Valley, she travels to West Des Moines every week to practice and play for Meghan Gruver’s club team, the West Des Moines Tigers. Gruver, along with Wartburg women’s lacrosse head coach Anna Meerbach, aim to help Marika start a lacrosse team of her own, beginning with a clinic held at Birdsall Park.

“With their guidance I was able to host a clinic for girls interested in the sport, which led to more interest,” Yang said. “ I have since begun to recruit more girls who are interested in playing and helping fundraise, which will help bring the team to life.”

On the sunny, hot October day of the clinic, groups of girls crowded around a large black bag at Cedar Falls’ Birdsall Park. The bag was unzipped to reveal dozens of colorful lacrosse sticks.

None of the girls attending, besides Yang, had ever played lacrosse, and their eagerness showed as each of them grabbed a stick and headed for the field. Attendees lined up and were shown how to pass and catch a ball in their sticks by Gruver and Meerbach.

Soon, small yellow balls flew through the air. “You have to remember to give as you catch,” Meerbach said as she helped the group.

Next, the players were taught to cradle, a crucial skill necessary to the game of lacrosse that requires players to move the net of the lacrosse stick in a back and forth motion that keeps the ball in play during motion and prevents players from being checked, or having the ball knocked out of their stick by a strike from a defender.

Unlike men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse does not allow body checking, only stick checking, and players can draw penalties for hitting other players with their sticks or bodies.The players are taught dodges, or motions that help attackers move past defenders and toward the goals. The roll dodge, face dodge and split dodge are three common dodges in women’s lacrosse, and Meerbach and Gruver gave the girls helpful guidance and tips to learn them as they pivoted around cones to practice.

Next, the coaches introduced the defensive position. In women’s lacrosse, contact can only be made stick to stick, and any contact made to the opposing player’s body is illegal. The coaches showed the players how to keep an effective defensive position without drawing a foul.

With one hand at the attacker’s hip and one at her shoulders, the defender kept wide and steady as the attacker tried to move around her and toward the goal. One versus one drills began, and attackers and defenders alike moved quickly down the field with their minds turning, trying to remember all the new rules at once: cradle, pivot, don’t touch her with my stick, shuffle, stay with her, wide stance, stick up, switch my grip.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole night was shooting goals. With the quick scoop through the grass to pick up a groundball, the players dodged a cone and tried to hurl the ball into the goal. There was a lot of laughter and as well as mistakes, but the new players relished in their mistakes as they learned together. Yang was still smiling.

As for girls who had never played lacrosse and were on the fence about playing due to lack of experience, Yang offered simple advice that was backed by the laughter and support exhibited by players at the clinic. “Just do it. Everyone will be learning and improving in their own ways, and we’ll be doing it as a team,” Yang said. “It’s going to be a blast, and the opportunity is such a great one when it comes to being a part of something very new in the state of Iowa.”

Yang’s friend and possibly future teammate, Galvez-Rodriguez, agreed after trying lacrosse for the first time at the clinic. “I loved that the majority of the girls there were like me. They had never played, so I didn’t feel out of place,” Galvez-Rodriguez said. “It was really fun figuring it out together.”

Though the team is still growing, Yang said she hopes to spread the word and fundraise enough to field a team to play the two other high school lacrosse teams in Iowa in organized matches: West Des Moines Valley and Ankeny.

“My goals for the lacrosse team are to bring as many girls as possible into an exciting and memorable sport and to work on creating a  team that is willing to put in the work to be successful,” Yang said. “I hope to accomplish creating a team that strives for the best and is determined in spreading the word about lacrosse and showing Iowa what the sport is all about.”

While the lacrosse season begins in the spring, Yang plans to have practices and clinics organized for this fall to teach her peers about the sport and how to play. Anyone is welcome to join the team or try playing, regardless of experience. Contact Yang at 19maryan@student.cfschools.org for more information.

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