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WATCH out: Lacrosse fever is spreading. This...


WATCH out: Lacrosse fever is spreading. This old Indian game that once was the preserve of a few schools in our region is threatening to burst upon the national scene.

Last week's Division I championship game between Maryland and Syracuse was broadcast live from coast to coast on cable. So was Maryland's stunning upset of previously unbeaten Johns Hopkins two days earlier. The three days of lacrosse finals at College Park drew a record 72,000 fans.

The best is yet to come. The number of high schools with boys varsity lacrosse has doubled in the past 20 years, to nearly 900; the number of colleges with varsity programs also has doubled, to 233. Of the 250,000 lacrosse players nationwide, 140,000 are under 17 and 80,000 are under 14. Interest in the sport is taking hold out, even out west.

The lacrosse capital of the world, though, remains where it should be -- here in Maryland. UM's men's team made it to the Division I finals; the Terps' women's team won its championship, going 17-0 for the season. Johns Hopkins' men's team made it to the semi-finals; its women's team did, too, in Division III play. Loyola College's men's team appeared in the quarter-finals. Salisbury State's men's team won its second-straight Division III title, with a perfect record and a 33-game winning streak. Six of this year's 11 All-American players came from Maryland, Hopkins or Loyola; five of the 11 second-team All-Americans represented those three schools.

With increased competition, it is ever-harder for Maryland schools to dominate. That's the price of popularity. It also means Maryland schools must work harder to recruit non-area stars to remain on top.

Lacrosse is no longer just a private-school game played by generations of elite Baltimore youngsters. It approaches the 21st century as an up-and-coming sport.

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