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Lacrosse gets boost from Marquette

Area university becomes first in state to adopt sport on NCAA level, bringing benefit to area club programs

Dec. 21, 2010

As one of the hotspots on the state's growing lacrosse map, Waukesha County was given a boost Thursday when Marquette University announced it was adopting the sports of men's and women's lacrosse into the athletics program.

Both teams will begin play in the spring of 2013. Count Waukesha's Laurie Belmer among those excited about it.

"This will be our first NCAA team in Wisconsin, and that definitely puts us on the map," said the founder of the Waukesha Lacrosse Club for area boys. "The first thing my son said was, 'Mom, we have to go get season tickets because Syracuse will be playing at Marquette."

Many area players have gravitated toward Syracuse as a favorite team, and with good reason - the Orange won national titles in 2008 and 2009, and Notre Dame finished as runner-up this past season. Both are members of the Big East Conference, to which Marquette belongs.

Other conference schools sponsoring the sport already include Cincinnati (women only), Connecticut (women only), Georgetown, Notre Dame, Louisville (women only), Providence (men only), Rutgers, St. John's (men only), Syracuse and Villanova. Loyola-Maryland also sponsor's a women's team and is an associate member of the conference.

Marquette will become the first Division 1 university in the state to offer the sport and just the third in the five-state region of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin - joining Notre Dame and Detroit.

"Lacrosse is a thrilling sport, loved by fans and participants, and a natural fit for Marquette," said MU athletics director Steve Cottingham in a university release. "The national growth of lacrosse and Marquette's membership in the Big East make this exactly the right time for us to move forward with lacrosse as a varsity sport at Marquette. We are confident we can build programs that compete successfully at the national level."

Belmer began the Waukesha-area club four years ago, and the high school club will head into its fourth season missing a couple co-op contributors. Mukwonago spun off from the unit to form its own team last year, and Catholic Memorial is doing the same this year, leaving the Waukesha team drawing from the three public high schools.

That's a good thing, as Belmer and other lacrosse enthusiasts hope to drive up school participation across the state. Roughly 20 to 25 more schools need to sponsor the sport to reach the requisite 10 percent of membership that would compel the WIAA to recognize lacrosse.

"Hopefully it will be able to adopt lacrosse sooner than later," Belmer said, adding that the Waukesha high schools will take over the sport in 2012 as a school-sponsored co-op, much like the current Waukesha Wings hockey program.

"The biggest challenge has been getting school adoption, places to play and getting coaches," Belmer said. "The players were easy to get. Our field space was our No. 1 difficulty. Getting qualified coaches is tough, but we train most of our coaches. There are some who have played Division 3 lacrosse."

Belmer said the move at Marquette is especially helpful to the girls sport, which doesn't possess the same youth network that the boys have. Belmer's operation includes teams beginning in fifth grade.

"I've had 100 percent returning players for the last couple years," she said. "We don't have people drop out, which makes it really exciting. It's been a really good experience and positive for everyone."

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