By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — For girls who excel in sports such as basketball, soccer, swimming and track, there is always the hope of a college scholarship.
But for girls who play lacrosse in this corner of the country, that hope has often been more of a distant dream.
In recent years, though, the game’s growing popularity has meant more area teams and more area players. And although Washington has only a few intercollegiate lacrosse programs, top girls high school players from Snohomish County are beginning to get recruiting attention from colleges elsewhere in the United States.
Meaghan Hess, a junior at Lake Stevens High School, and Shelby Barkhouse, a junior at Snohomish, are members of Snohomish Lacrosse, which has teams for boys and girls from third grade through high school. Both girls already are getting nibbles from East Coast schools, with full-scale recruiting for high school juniors set to start July 1.
“They can’t really talk to us right now, but they invite you to their camps and that’s really exciting,” said the 16-year-old Hess, who has heard from colleges like Holy Cross (Worcester, Mass.) American and Catholic (Washington, D.C.), St. Francis (Loretto, Penn.) and Monmouth (West Long Branch, N.J.). The whole process, she added, “is really nerve-wracking. You get kind of anxious to see where it leads.”
“I don’t know how it’s going to roll out, but it’s fun along the way,” said Barkhouse, 17, who has also heard from Monmouth. “But maybe all this stuff will turn out to be nothing in the end. I don’t want to be overly excited and end up disappointed.”
While lacrosse is catching on in the Pacific Northwest, it has long been popular on the East Coast, particularly in the hotbed state of Maryland. Snohomish Lacrosse varsity girls head coach Craig Hess (Meaghan’s father) learned the game on New York’s Long Island and later played at C.W. Post College in Brookville, N.Y.
In the Puget Sound area, Craig Hess said, “it seems that every year when the season starts, another program sprouts up. This is my fourth season coaching in Snohomish, and just in those four years it’s amazing how many new programs have come up. The sport just seems to grow and grow and grow.”
Meaghan Hess also plays for a team called Puget Sound Select that competes in out-of-state tournaments against teams from around the country. Sometimes, she said, those opponents look down on squads from the Pacific Northwest.
At an event last year in Vail, Colo., she said, “people were like, ‘Oh, we’re playing the Washington team. We’ve been playing longer, so they’re probably a weaker team.’ … They probably think we’re shy and soft, but then we just play at the same level they do.”
Some of the elite East Coast teams are decidedly better, she added, “but we played fine against their average teams. It was an evenly played game.”
Geographically, the school nearest to the Puget Sound area with a NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse program is Oregon, which is one of three Pacific-10 Conference schools with intercollegiate lacrosse — California and Stanford are the others. But virtually all of Oregon’s 26-player roster is from the East Coast with a handful from California and one from Oregon. No one is from Washington.
Likewise, the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma has a Division III lacrosse program, but the school’s entire roster of 18 players is from out of state.
“For Western Washington kids, the hardest thing is getting seen,” acknowledged Craig Hess. “It’s hard for the colleges to come out and see the kids play, so a lot of them have to rely on game films.”
Traditionally, he added, East Coast high school players had an advantage because they had played for several years. But because West Coast organizations like Snohomish Lacrosse have burgeoning programs for younger players, those kids eventually grow into talented, experienced players.
“We’re starting to see that happen on the West Coast,” he said. “Lacrosse is a sport that takes time to get good at, so now we’re seeing more high school kids who’ve played lacrosse (for several years).”
And that means “we’re closing the gap,” he said, “because our youth programs are sending quality kids to the high schools.”