My senior year of high school I was tasked with the assignment of covering one of the contests played by my school's freshly created lacrosse team. It was one of the most difficult undertakings I was burdened with that year, because I knew next-to-nothing about the game. After covering it, I quickly realized I wasn't the only one. The parents in the crowd were asking just as many questions about the sport's rules as I was, and the only think everyone seemed certain of was that you clapped when a player on your team got the ball in the opposing team's net.
Fast forward a decade and some change and lacrosse is a different animal in the Derby City. Where there once were merely a handful of high school club teams, there are now competitive youth leagues and travel squads for Louisville kids looking to grow up with the sport. Where there was once confusion about the sport's rules and its place in our city, there's now a bourgeoning lacrosse community that believes it can hold its own with the East Coast locales that have been doing this for decades.
Lacrosse is the fastest-growing college sport in the nation, according to the annual NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report, and there are few places in America where that growth has been more noticeable than at the University of Louisville.
Up until 2008, there was no Louisville lacrosse. Now, less than 10 years later, the Cardinals might be on the verge of winning a national title in the sport.
"We're really trying to show everyone what they bring to our program to help us have that championship mindset," head coach Kellie Young said. "Coaches doing a better job, players really loving the game and being invested whether they play on game day or not, and our starters really showing an appreciation for what those reserves do to help them prepare has helped us stay as a team committed to our mission. Now we have some confidence in who we are and what we're trying to become."
That confidence comes as the direct result of a 12-1 record -- the best start in UofL history -- that has the Cards ranked No. 5 in the country heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. Louisville has knocked off national powers in Notre Dame, Northwestern and Boston College, with its lone defeat coming on the road at the hands of No. 13 Duke.
The toughest tasks are yet to come, however, as Young's team will wrap up the regular season with games at No. 3 North Carolina and No. 15 Virginia, and at home against No. 4 Syracuse. After that it's on to the always super-competitive ACC Tournament in Blacksburg, Va., and then a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, where expectations will be higher for Louisville than they have ever been before.
Senior star Kay Morissette says she's seen a change in the program since the Cardinals made the move to the ACC, which is easily the most dominant conference in college lacrosse.
"Last year was a big transition moving to the ACC because we went from playing good competition to playing really great competition every game," Morissette said. "Now I think we're better prepared to play those teams and it's showing."
The evolution of the program is best exemplified by Morissette, a native of Ontario who committed to Louisville's fledgling lacrosse program because she wanted to "be a part of their legacy." Four years later and she is an All-American who finds herself as one of the front-runners to win the Tewaaraton Award, which is given annually to the sport's best overall player.
Lacrosse's growth in the city of Louisville has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years, and something like a national championship in the sport won by the community's university of note would only throw gas on the flame. The month ahead could be awfully exciting for not just Cardinal lacrosse, but for Louisville lacrosse.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune