Lacrosse Gains Ground

February 13, 2011

As GW season begins, the sport is stretching its geographical boundaries.

By Jesse Hooker

The sport of lacrosse is one of the fastest growing in college athletics. Since the early 1980s, the number of NCAA-sponsored women’s lacrosse programs has more than tripled, growing from just over 100 teams in 1982 to 350 today.

The George Washington women’s lacrosse program can be included among that growing list. Now entering its 10th season as a NCAA Division I varsity sport at GW, the Colonials’ program is still in its general infancy in the lacrosse hotbed that is the Chesapeake Bay area.

Tara Hannaford, the third head coach of the program since its inception in 2002, has witnessed the game’s growth firsthand. A native of New London, Conn., she began her coaching career in Southern California after an All-America playing career at William & Mary.

“When I was growing up, very few high schools had lacrosse in Connecticut and Rhode Island,” she says. “During my time as a coach at the Cate School in Santa Barbara, Calif., the number of girls’ teams grew tremendously in just two years.”

Just as the Mid Atlantic-dominated sport has started to take root across the nation, so too has the GW program. The Colonials have steadily improved over their decade of competition.

Every other year since 2005, GW has reached the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship tournament. The Colonials made their first trip to the league tourney in 2005, reached the title game in 2007 and returned to the postseason again in 2009.

Ms. Hannaford won’t have to rely solely on recent trend in GW’s search of the A-10 playoffs in 2011. The Colonials boast seven returning starters and 18 returning letterwinners from last season. The 2011 campaign begins this Wednesday against cross-town rival Howard at Mount Vernon Field, one of eight home games for the team this spring. All home games are free and open to the GW community.

Not only has Ms. Hannaford brought in a quartet of A-10 All-Rookie Team selections from the Interstate 95 corridor the past two seasons, including 2009 A-10 Rookie of the Year Sarah Phillips, but she has branched out recruiting efforts to the West Coast.

“I think we’ve done a great job getting the GW name out,” says Ms. Hannaford, who will coach three players from the West this season. “Hosting clinics and camps has really helped us. Additionally, my assistants and I work many camps throughout the country and attend as many recruiting events as possible.”

Freshman Samantha Bauer, a native of Folsom, Calif., is only the second Californian recruited to the program, while rookie Madison Pohle and sophomore teammate Caitlyn O’Brien hail from Scottsdale, Ariz. They’re the first GW players from west of the Mississippi River since 2005.

“Recruiting has spread to the West Coast due to the increased number of players joining club teams,” adds Ms. Hannaford. “Many times players from the West are newer to the game so there is a greater chance for growth and development when they reach college.”

Now for the first time in the program’s 10-year history, fans and parents thousands of miles away will be able to experience the Colonials’ continued growth this season as if they were in the nation’s capital.

The GW Sports Information office will offer lacrosse, as well as men’s and women’s soccer in fall 2011, via live video streaming on the official athletics website, GWsports.com, for the first time.

“It’s great because now all of our parents, fans and alumni who can’t get on a plane or drive to our home games now have the ability to watch us as much as they want,” says Ms. Hannaford.

Those interested in subscribing can visit GW All-Access to sign up for the service at $9.95 per month or $79.95 for an annual package that already includes Colonials men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics.

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