Sarah Creighton eyeballed me from across the practice circle. Her body was taut, her teeth clenched and her eyes like a gunslingers slit against the sun. I had already botched three attempted catches, and this time it was do or die (literally). The other players knuckled their sticks in anticipation, and Creighton heaved the ball in a merciful arc (much like a kindergarten teacher throws a beanie baby to a 6-year-old). I willed it into the almost basket-less basket at the end of my stick, but as it spun closer, I realized my mistake—wa-bam! Three inches of solid rubber connected with my skull. I've been hit with basketballs, baseballs, tennis balls and shelving in my time, and none of them prepared me for the glorious pain of millions of brain cells bursting like Jiffy-Pop. I had been spanked by lacrosse, and it was good.
Weeks before this decidedly sad attempt, I met the women who have made club lacrosse one of the most recognized organizations at Boise State. They were all at Parilla for dollar taco night, and the inside jokes and crazy nicknames gave me the impression that this group had ties beyond a shared love for cheap grub (not to mention beer). In fact, they are part of a growing trend to bring a previously "East Coast" sport to the Westside, and every year shows more and more promise. The sport itself started back in the 1400s with a Native American game that combined recreation, politics and military training. Teams were comprised of hundreds of braves who carried the ball down fields up to several miles long. Games could last an entire day and were played to toughen warriors for combat, settle tribal disputes or just for fun. European missionaries brought the game back to the mainland, and their comparison of the thatched stick to a bishop's scepter or "crosier" is where the modern name "lacrosse" comes from.
Over the centuries, "the oldest game on the North American continent" has developed into something of a regional treasure. Just as the West claims specialty coffee and surfer chicks, so does the East designate itself the home of beauty queens, bagels and lacrosse. From prep schools to adult leagues, lacrosse outlets abound in the east whereas here in the west, it is still catching fire. Local high schools like Bishop Kelly and Timberline offer competitive programs, and Boise State has had a men's team for almost nine years. But what about women? What happens when you put a bunch of girls on a field with long sticks and short skirts—err, kilts?
According to Jessica Quier (pronounced choir, mind you), it's good sweaty fun disguised as a "game of finesse." She explained that while the basics of women's lacrosse stemmed from men's, the rules are completely different.
"The men play full contact, and the women are supposed to be more about style. It's catching, throwing and precision, and you're only allowed to check an opponent if it's clean and away from the body. There's chaos too, but I think the men's rules are for me," she said. Quier has been playing defense with Boise State for two years now, and though she grew up excelling at sports like basketball and swimming, it was hard for her to pick up a game that appears so outwardly simple. "A bunch of my friends were playing, so I decided to give it a shot. The first day of practice, I was like: I have to run? Put me in the goal, coach," she laughed. But the uniqueness of the game and the team dynamics kept her coming back to a group that is fondly and self-bastingly known as the "lacrossetitutes."
Despite receiving numerous service/spirit awards and boasting consistent membership, the women's lacrosse team was all but dead a few years ago. Sarah Creighton heard about the sport through guy-friends that played, and she rounded up some determined female athletes to re-ignite the fire under a withering club. These women included Marcy Jenson, Jenna Ravenscraft, Jill Menbenhall and Erin Fernau, all of whom taught themselves how to play and persevered despite a general lack of commitment. They recruited other athletes at parties and intramural events, and the team slowly but steadily grew. While Creighton quit playing this year, she is still attached at the hip to all the girls who got out there and wore kilts with her and battled proudly.
"The first time I put one on I was completely self-conscious. Now I love it—it's 'breezy,' but I always get the biggest one cause I don't want my ass to show," she said. Much like Quier, Creighton is a natural athlete, but she agreed that lacrosse is one of the most distinctive, difficult sports there is. "This is the hardest sport I ever learned to play. A basketball is big, so the eye-hand coordination isn't that tough. The hardest part about lacrosse is catching, because there's no pocket. Putting your stick in the right place is one thing, but it also has to give."
Having only tasted how difficult it is to handle a stick, I was excited to see how the girls would perform against the men's team at their annual, end-of-the-season face-off. The energy was high, and everywhere people were swapping neon orange shorts for dark blue kilts. The men bared their legs (and other things) to don the girl's uniforms, and the women struggled to keep the guy's giant shorts from slipping around their ankles. What ensued was a mess of very fast, very aggressive people with big sticks. It reminded me of soccer—same field, same goalie, same complex ball handling—but with a lot more action. Highlights included a few aerial takedowns, a depantsing "trifecta" and men's forward Derek Woodbury skipping gaily across the field while giggling and twirling his skirt (nice legs, by the way). The score didn't matter as much as the fun, an attitude that is at the core of Boise State lacrosse being a sport inside a social life.
"I see this team staying around for a while—people will come back," said Creighton. "I just wish women's was full-contact. We might not score a lot, but we'd beat the shit out of the other guy."