History of Women’s Lacrosse in California

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Many thanks to our good friend and California lacrosse historian Bob Davis for sharing this first-hand account on the beginnings of lacrosse in California.

Although women’s lacrosse was first played in Scotland in 1890, the game did not reach California for another eight decades.  The 1976 Western States Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, which was held at Stanford University, featured an exhibition game between the Stanford and San Francisco Women’s Lacrosse Clubs that is believed to be the first organized women’s lacrosse game played on the West Coast. The game ended in a 4 – 4 draw. Shortly after the exhibition game UC Berkeley started a women’s lacrosse, and the game that so many California girls and young women enjoy today had established its roots in  California.

In the fall of 1976, Barbara Longstreth moved west from Philadelphia to take over as the field hockey coach at Cal State University at Long Beach. Ms. Longstreth was a gifted athlete and brilliant coach in both field hockey and lacrosse. She would later be inducted into the national hall of fame in both sports. After completing her first field hockey season, she turned her efforts to introducing women’s lacrosse to Southern California. Some of her field hockey players would take up the sport.

On February 11, 1977, Long Beach hosted a Women’s Lacrosse Workshop. Other former eastern players who relocated to Southern Califoria, like Anita Miller, a Philadelphian living in Irvine joined the workshop. Anita was a member of the USA Team and would become a major contributor to the sport in the emerging years. As more former players became aware of the program, the Los Angeles Women’s Lacrosse Association was formed. Their first order of business was to host the 1977 Australian National Touring Team. They quickly put together a California All Star team consisting of Long Beach and Los Angeles club players merged in with the best players from Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Anita Miller was selected as team captain.

 

Pre game introductions. From left to right, the woman with the bullhorn is Australian coach Margaret Cleggett, umpire Barbara Konover, umpire Sue Schooley, chief umpire and president of the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Association Jane Vache, and CSULB coach Barbara Longstreth.

Jane Vache (also from Philadelphia and a national Hall of Fame member), the president of the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Association, made the trip west to welcome the Australians and serve as the chief umpire for the game. On Saturday, April 16, 1977 at CSU Long Beach, the first known game of women’s Lacrosse in Southern California was played. The young California team with many first year players and limited practice time was no match for the veteran Aussies. They would lose by the score of 19 to 1. But what those young players took away from that experience laid the foundation for the growth of the sport over the next three decades.  Long Beach would also play Stanford and UC Berkeley later that spring (results unknown). In 1978, the Claremont Colleges would field a women’s team. This program is now a NCAA Division III varsity team. Meanwhile, the other players not attending the colleges would form the Orange County/Los Angeles Women’s L.C. In the early 1980’s this would become the Tri-Check L.C., a team still active today.

Another view of the pre-game lineup.

Courtesy of Bob Davis.  Bob was president of the California Lacrosse Association in 1977 and helped coordinate the 1977 game between Australia and California.  The sport was so new at Long Beach that the women’s lacrosse team did not have any goals when the Aussies visited.  As the player/coach of the Orange County Lacrosse Club, Davis had the only set of goals in Orange County, which he shared for the game. Bob says “I still get a chuckle when I go to all these schools that now play the sport and have multiple sets of goals scattered around the athletic fields. If they only knew what it was like to cart that original set of goals all over the place.”