After just five years, Principia women’s lacrosse has grown from near extinction to a vibrant club with 17 enthusiastic members. I spent two hours watching a Saturday practice session and talking to the players and coaches who spoke of the giant strides the sport had made, and left with no doubt that lacrosse is a club on the rise.

Honestly, I knew nothing about the game until two close friends insisted I should watch. The objective of the game is to use the lacrosse stick to catch, carry, and pass the ball in an effort to score by shooting the ball into an opponent’s goal. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to dispossess them of the ball through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning. Also, the only protective equipment worn for the women’s lacrosse are mouth guards, face guards and sometimes thin gloves.

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Senior Chelsea Kendrick runs through a line of opponents. - photo / Katie Duntley

Stick to stick contact – when in the right body position – is allowed. Players are able to hit the opponent’s stick to try and obtain possession of the ball in what is called checking. Players are able to lightly push the player if their stick is a certain angle on the opposition’s body. Women’s lacrosse also differs from men’s because of the field it is played on. Although it is the same overall size, the lines of the playing field are different, which help to structure the different rules of the games, such as how many players can go over the “restraining line” to play attack or defense at one end of the field.

There are some similarities between lacrosse, ice hockey and handball. The three have small goals with a goalkeeper. There are 12 players – three on offense, three on defense, five on midfield, and one goalie. Up to seven players can play on offense. Of the three defenders, one can join the offense. Also of the two attacking wingers, one can fall back and defend.

Watching the players go through their drills left no doubt that this is an energy-sapping sport that requires fitness (for the shuttle runs), agility, an eye for the ball and space, patience, good passing technique and teamwork. “Take a mistake as a challenge,” was the constant message by one of the coaches, sophomore Tommy Heninger.

One of the captains, senior Chelsea Kendrick, traces the formation of Principia women’s lacrosse team to recent alumni Jacqueline Pappas and Kelsie Brook (C’09), who planted the seeds that are slowly beginning to germinate. “They were everything from coaches to mentors and role models,” adds senior captain Katie Sydness.  Having three captains, including sophomore Randi Slusher, is good for continuity. “We do not want a situation where there is a vacuum,” explains Sydness.

The momentum continued when Heninger and sophomore Collin Wolfe stepped in as coaches. Wolfe said: “This is a great team. The players are dedicated and enthusiastic. We have a very young team and have no illusions of beating some of the big guns. The improvement has been phenomenal and we have a firm base because most of the players are either freshmen or sophomores.”

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Sophomore Angela Smelker makes a move during practice on Tuesday, April 13. photos / Benjamin Chernivsky

Two weeks ago when the lacrosse team played a home match, there was great support from the Principia community, some of whom have no clue about this sport. “It was amazing to have a big number turn out for the game and cheer. It is a unique and fun game to watch also,” adds Kendrick.

The lacrosse team members came to the sport from a variety of backgrounds. Freshmen Shelby Lemons and Jewelle Matheny are cross-country runners who find lacrosse good for endurance. Freshman Brie Mayer, a soccer player, stumbled into lacrosse in the winter: “I promised never to play this game, but here I am among the best friends in this college. Lacrosse is the best club,” she says. Junior Darline Ambugo already played the game in Surrey, England before joining the Principia team. “Lacrosse was big in Surrey,” acknowledged Ambugo, whose background in athletics has come in handy.

Amy Sylvester, the goalie, has been nicknamed “brick wall” by the two coaches. Kendrick says, “She is incredible between the posts.” For a player who admitted having lots of butterflies before the first match against Kansas University, Sylvester has been outstanding since the lacrosse season started. “I have a whole view of the field and help in making sure that the players are in position,” she says.

She adds that the defenders do a good job. “I was scared for the first two minutes of our first match against Kansas University, but things have improved and the players have a lot of confidence,” she says.

The two coaches have an easier job because of the good chemistry between the players who support one another metaphysically. “They are much better than [when] they started and it is only a matter of time before we start winning matches,” explains Heninger. In fact, just within the last week the team won their first match against Nebraska.

The players and coaches know that there is a potential of lacrosse growing big. They have two more years before graduating which is enough time to recruit new players and build on what is already started. Lacrosse at Principia can only become better.

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