The lacrosse world is at an interesting point in it’s development. The typical hotbeds of the sport still dominate most roster spots on college teams, but players emerging from non-hotbeds and dominating the college game isn’t nearly as surprising and noteworthy as it was just a few years ago. So now the question is being asked more and more: Does western lacrosse compete with the eastern kings of the sport?
Let’s start with the most basic and fundamental way to compare the two lacrosse areas: talent. How good are the players here in the west, versus how they are in the east coast hotbed . If you were to ask an east coaster, they would blindly tell you anyone east of the Mississippi is infinitely better than anyone out west. Although the east coaster may have had an argument a few years ago, new rankings are showing there are plenty of western players who are garnering attention and being taken as serious players. Peter Baum was a westerner who won the “Best College Lacrosse Player” award. This gets nit-picky though, when you discuss specific players versus specific players (it’s also always volatile to bring up rankings, so sorry). Other examples are Foothill High School’s Erik Adamson who is one of the top scorers for Denver University and Rob Emery (St. Ignatius) who was a captain at Virginia.
The good news continues at the high school level, as evidenced when St Ignatius (arguably the best team in the west) played and nearly beat Chaminade (arguably the best team in the east) 6-5. We saw just how competitive it has become when the best in the east plays the best in the west. As another example, the Under Armour West Underclass team has improved every year, and this year reached the semi-finals for the first time.
The West has also begun to increase it’s stature in national rankings. Every year Inside Lacrosse (the leader in Lacrosse coverage for most of the world) releases rankings for every high school class, excluding sophomores. Western players such as Nate Marano and Beau Botkiss have ranked extremely highly for their class. While some would argue that rankings don’t mean anything, it’s hard not to appreciate this as a western lacrosse community. It shows that the established powers-that-be of the lacrosse world recognize and assert that Western players can very easily be considered a part of the top 100 in a class. This is progress, and will only continue to be validated when these ranked players make an impact on their college teams.
It’s apparent that the top talent in the west is catching up with the top talent in the east but let’s keep our vision wide. The aggregate of western talent is still behind the aggregate talent of the east. What the east coast has over the west is depth. When you put the best in the west versus the best in the east, the game is close. Then, however, it drops off. SI needs to look to places like San Diego, Orange County, and Colorado to fill their schedule with competitive teams Chaminade, on the other hand, can get a season full of competitive games without leaving Long Island. To put it simply, there are more top-level teams out east then there are out west. This is kind of a lame answer, but it is simply just as matter of time. Programs like Edison High School in Huntington Beach (recently added to CIF lacrosse competition) are the future of the western game. Given enough time, talent and coaching will work its way to new teams and eventually once they establish enough of a tradition. More and more highly touted coaches are moving out west to be a part of this movement.
However it is only a matter of time before the west surpasses and becomes equal with the east. Some day very soon, western players will equally share rankings, commitments, and accomplishments. This is because of the age-old argument for western lacrosse: we have sun, always. We can keep playing, practicing, and just messing around while easterners have to sit inside. The other reason is that coaches WANT to come out west. Legendary players are seeing their futures out west, so the area is becoming flooded with teaching. Younger players are always better than older players out west, simply because better coaches have been around since these kids started playing the sport.
The other, more abstract part of this argument is the establishment of legitimate western college lacrosse programs. For the general populace to accept the west as a lacrosse hot bed, there need to be good, competitive, and desirable college programs. Schools like USC, UCLA, UCSB, and others would define western lacrosse if they went D1, and eventually compete with the typical top 20s.
At this juncture it would be right to assume that the East Coast is still better than the West, but only because there hasn’t been enough time for the West to develop talent, create depth and traditions within their programs, and make West-Coast college teams a viable and competitive option.