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Manual lacrosse teams ready for growth with KHSAA sanction

A+lacrosse+helmet+and+a+lacrosse+stick.+Design+by+Dia+Cohen
Dia Cohen
A lacrosse helmet and a lacrosse stick. Design by Dia Cohen

Lacrosse has been growing and gaining popularity across the world in recent years. According to the Professional Box Lacrosse Association, club lacrosse memberships have increased by nearly 600% in the last several years. The International Olympic Committee also recently announced that lacrosse will be played for the first time in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Louisville teams are ready to see their sport grow to new levels as the 2023-24 season approaches. With increased interest and an influx of new players, both the Manual boys and girls teams are ready for what’s to come. 

One of the opportunities that comes with the rising popularity of lacrosse is KHSAA sanctions of both boys and girls lacrosse at Manual in the 2024-2025 season. In previous years, lacrosse has been considered a “club sport” and has certain limitations, the most significant being the difference in funding and practices. KHSAA-sanctioned sports receive funding from the organization. This means that right now, the lacrosse teams have to come up with money on their own, in other ways. This includes fundraising events done by the athletes, coaches, and booster club.

“Honestly, it’s really big community building, but a lot of work does go into it. I think our board has to work really, really hard for those sorts of things, and other sports kind of don’t have to experience that,” Sammie Haden (11, J&C), midfielder for girls’ lacrosse, said.

Girls’ head coach, Dean Walker, agrees that the sanctioning will take some of the burden to come up with money off of the team and the booster club. 

“The sanctioning will help us… a little bit funding-wise… in fact, if the school district would pay for more of the coaches salaries, the booster club wouldn’t have to raise quite as much money. They do a great job of supporting us,” Walker said.

Another limitation that comes with being a club sport is practice. The biggest difference for the lacrosse teams is the off-season training. As club sports, it can be more difficult for the teams to conduct organized practices, especially when the sport is not technically in season.

“We’re not allowed to have offseason stuff. If we were sanctioned, I’m sure we would be able to have more lenience with when we could practice and if we could use the practice field or not on certain days,” Jason Millard (11, MST), attack for boys’ lacrosse, said.

Both teams are looking forward to what’s to come, from increased popularity to new opportunities with the upcoming sanctions. Coach Walker is optimistic about the future of his program. He explained that Manual was the first Louisville high school to recognize lacrosse as a varsity sport and the interest only continues to grow.  

Since their beginnings, both teams have experienced ups and downs. For the boys’ team, the 2022-23 season was plagued with injuries. 

“We had at least seven or eight injuries or people out of commission by halfway through the season, and we just really shot ourselves in the foot. You could see at the beginning of the season, we were winning solid and then we just fell off,” Millard said. 

Millard explained how injuries continued to be an issue for the team, leading to their fall to Ballard in the first round of the playoffs. Despite the disappointment, the team has been able to learn from their mistakes and carry the lessons they learned into the upcoming season.

“Two years in a row, we beat them (Ballard) in the regular season and lost to them in the playoffs, so I think it’s really just keeping our heads in the game and not getting cocky… just staying strong until the very end instead of falling off,” said Millard.

Even though the boys’ team experienced hardship last season, they are optimistic about what’s to come. The rapid growth of the sport that’s happening across the world can be seen at Manual. For both the boys’ and girls’ teams, interest meetings this year brought more people than ever before.

“There are more new people than returning,” Millard said. 

With interest in the sport rising, returning players are ready for the increased popularity to bring new opportunities and skill sets to the team. 

The girls’ team is also experiencing a major turnover this year, with over half of their varsity team having graduated this past spring. 

“Last year we had a very unique situation having 16 seniors on our team. We had a very outstanding group… in regard to experience and leadership. We had a lot of growth, but it’s extremely difficult looking at this year having to replace 16 seniors. We have a challenge this year… we didn’t have 16 juniors and sophomores combined on our roster last year… but it was a great, great group of student-athletes that we had last year,” Walker said.

Girls lacrosse has been much more popular at Manual in past years, even fielding four teams the year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut sports down. However, Walker expects to see numbers similar to those before the pandemic in the upcoming years.

“I think we’re going to be back up to the mid-80s once again with the program, which is great,” Walker said.

Walker takes great pride in the way he runs his program, saying that it’s important for him to create good chemistry and good people. He believes that this philosophy is a reason for the popularity of his program.

“Winning is just a by-product of running a program properly. I think everyone knows we’re very competitive. We go out, we try very hard to win our games… we win because every player gets better and becomes a better person,” Walker explained.

For both teams, the upcoming 2023-24 season will be the final one of being a club sport. They will begin the 2024-25 season as officially sanctioned KHSAA organizations. Both programs know that this is an important step in the growth of lacrosse, not only at Manual but across the world.

“The growth of this sport has been phenomenal. It’s the fastest-growing sport in the country and has been for a number of years. It’ll be added as an Olympic sport next time around and in a very fast-paced format… we’re excited about the growth of it, and it’s a great sport,” Walker said.

About the Contributors
Lydia Adams, Staffer
Lydia Adams is a sports staffer on RedEye. In her free time, she likes to run, read, and watch a lot of sports. Her favorite teams and Louisville and the Cincinnati Bengals. You can contact her at [email protected].
Dia Cohen, Photo and Design Editor
Dia Cohen is the Photo and Design Editor for Manual RedEye this year. She loves to read, play piano, draw and stargaze. She is passionate about covering criminal justice issues. In short, she's a real renaissance woman. You can contact her at [email protected].
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