In the not-so-distant past, college lacrosse coaches didn't need a national road map to track down talented players to fill their rosters. A simple set of directions to Baltimore and New York, which have been, and still are, hotbeds for field lacrosse players, was all they needed.
A cursory glance at the lineups of most of the top-ranked college teams suggests that the Baltimore metropolitan area is still the Mecca of the sport, but a closer look at the hometowns listed on these same rosters raises the question: Are other areas catching up?
"It's amazing how many good players there are on some of the college teams who come from nontraditional areas," said Marc Bouchard, editor of Lacrosse Magazine, a publication produced locally by US Lacrosse, the sport's governing body.
"I remember sitting in the press box earlier this year when Princeton was playing Johns Hopkins, and I turned to the guy next to me and said, 'I never thought I would see the day when I would see a guy from Colorado starting for Princeton and another from Ohio starting for Hopkins.'
"I guess it was inevitable, but you're really starting to see a lot of guys from a lot of odd places."
Princeton has a number of players from New York and Baltimore, including five from the Gilman School, but the rest of the Tigers' roster is rounded out by players from Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland combined to win nine of the first 17 NCAA championships, but the state's Division I programs have been shut out the last decade by upstart Princeton, a team in position to win an unprecedented four NCAA Division I titles in five years; Syracuse, which captured five titles between 1988 and 1995; and North Carolina, the 1991 champion.
Baltimore's Boys' Latin, the defending champions of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, perhaps the best high school lacrosse league in the nation, began its season by losing its first nonleague game in 15 years - to a team from North Carolina.
Boys' Latin's veteran coach, Bob Shriver, attributed his team's 9-8 loss to Charlotte Country Day School to his team's youth and inexperience, but he quickly gave credit where due.
"The quality of the play overall hasn't gotten to where it is here in Baltimore, but the quality of the players these other areas have begun to produce is growing by leaps and bounds," said Shriver. "There are so many good pockets for lacrosse talent now. I think people in these [other] areas are into the sport just as much as we are. They love it.
"One of my best friends refers to lacrosse as a cult of its own," said Shriver.
"There's really something neat, attractive and fun about it. It's a great game and relatively easy to pick up."
Joe Seivold, a Gilman and North Carolina graduate who coached lacrosse for two years in Palm Beach, Fla., before returning to North Carolina nine years ago to become head coach at Durham Academy, echoed Shriver's remarks.
"It's a great game, and when you turn athletes onto the game, they will cling to it," he said. "The biggest problem we run into down here in North Carolina, where every kid dreams of being the next Michael Jordan, is getting them to try it. If I can get a stick in a basketball player's hands, eight times out of 10, they'll fall in love with the game."
The popularity of lacrosse has stretched far beyond the Appalachian Mountains and even west of the Rockies. The University of Denver, one of four colleges in a 45-mile radius with an NCAA-sanctioned men's lacrosse team, took on Johns Hopkins this season - and lost 19-8 - and plans to move up to Division I next year.
Denver coach Brion Salazar credits the growth of the sport in th Rockies to the annual Vail (Colo.) Shootout, a national lacrosse festival that, for the past 25 years, has showcased the best players in the game.
"The Vail Shootout let the people out here witness how the sport is played at its highest level, and that's really gotten a lot of kids out here hooked on the game," said Salazar, a Colorado native who learned the game in high school from replanted Baltimorean John Bach, a former All-Ivy Leaguer from Penn.
"We've always had good athletes, but the stick skills weren't always there.
"Now the sport has exploded in this state with 30 high schools playing and more youth players involved than ever before," he said. "Now, any given year, Colorado produces three to six players who can play Division I, and I mean step in and play right away."
Metropolitan Washington, which has traditionally been a notch below Baltimore on the lacrosse field, trails Charm City in terms of sheer numbers, but the D.C. area, primarily Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, is producing more Division I players than ever before and more victories over Baltimore's elite high school teams.
This spring, Baltimore's Calvert Hall has lost to Gonzaga and St. Albans of D.C., and Severn School, Mount St. Joseph and St. Mary's all have bowed to Landon School of Bethesda.
"There's no question that the D.C. area is catching up, but the debate is, 'How wide is the gap?'" said Landon's coach of 23 years, Rob Bordley. "Our best teams can play with the best teams in Baltimore, but we're still not to the point where we're beating them with any consistency. We've had some good teams, and we've produced some great players like [Princeton star attackman] Jesse Hubbard, but we still haven't produced a team like Boys' Latin last year, St. Mary's two years ago or the one at Gilman the year before that.
"We have kids down here who are athletically superior, but they don't have the instincts the kids have at Gilman, Loyola and St. Paul's, and that's because the Cockeysville Recreation program is better than the one in Northern Virginia. Lacrosse is a way of life up there."
Clay White, president of the Maryland State Lacrosse Coaches Association, credits the dedicated coaches at the high school level for contributing to the growth of the sport in so-called "nontraditional areas." But he harbors doubts as to whether the college coaches are pulling their weight in the promotion of the sport.
A lot of people don't know it, but high school lacrosse in Ohio and Michigan is excellent, and that's because they have some excellent coaches out there," said White, who has led Broadneck High to back-to-back state public school titles.
"Sometimes I question whether the people calling the shots - they being the college coaches - want the game to grow on a national scope.
The last statistic I heard was that there are 100 golfers for every lacrosse player. Until that figure changes, places like Baltimore and New York will continue to have a stronghold on the sport."
Steven Kivinski is a member of The Sun's sports department and has been covering lacrosse, at every level, for nearly a decade.
Pub Date: 5/03/98