High school lacrosse comes to NW
Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. And now Northwestern High School will have boys and girls teams suit up in the spring.
The sport had been introduced to the Northwestern Youth Athletic Association five years ago for the boys, and two years ago for the girls. After pitching the introduction of the sport at the high school level, the Northwestern Lehigh School Board approved the boys and girls teams back on January 18, 2017.
The two teams will start competing this spring, making them another Lehigh Valley school to add the sport to its assortment.
“Any time a new sport is requested, several years worth of data needs to be collected to show sustainability of the program,” Northwestern Athletic Director Jason Zimmerman said. “The request for lacrosse started back in 2012. The NYAA ran a youth lacrosse program and was excellent at tracking the data, and it provided that to my office so we could make a sound recommendation.”
It turns out the popularity of lacrosse took off immediately. The boys youth teams grew to roughly 80 players in total, while 50 girls showed interest in the sport in its first season.
It was quite clear there would be plenty of interest at the high school level. The boys’ team has seen many of the youth players, as well as other newcomers, come out for the team. As for the girls’ side, there are currently 34 on the high school roster (with 24 being either 9th or 10th graders).
Even with the high interest in lacrosse, Zimmerman doesn’t expect other spring sports (track and field, baseball and softball) to be affected too much.
“Our process requires proof that it would not be of a detriment to an existing program if we added another,” Zimmerman said. “Our data indicated that the students who play lacrosse really did not play another sport in the spring. If any sport would see a slight, if any decline, it would be track and field. However, our numbers are so strong in that sport that it is at no risk.”
Zimmerman didn’t have to look far for the coach of the girls’ team. Lissa Opolsky, who also coaches field hockey in the fall, was recently named to lead the lacrosse team as well. It’s a natural fit, Zimmerman explained, as many of Opolsky’s field hockey players have also come out for lacrosse.
“I’m honored to be coaching the girls for their first season,” Opolsky said. “I’m excited to help them be competitive and strategize against other teams.”
One of the biggest challenges Opolsky expects are the youth players adjusting to the high school level with rules always changing.
“The rules of the sport are constantly changing, so as the girls transition from NYAA to high school, there are some changes as well,” Opolsky said. “During NYAA, checking was only allowed below the waist, which is not true of high school rules. Additionally, this year the PIAA has added the self-start rule, similar to the field hockey rule on restarts for fouls and out of bounds.”
On the boys’ front, Marcus Janda was chosen as the program’s first head coach. Janda brings 23 years of lacrosse experience as both a player and coach. He is a 2008 graduate of Parkland High School who not only played at the high school level, but also played Division I at Wagner College for two years.
Janda also was the head coach for Scranton Prep during its inaugural season in 2013, and then became the offensive coordinator at Parkland in 2014.
“It’s exciting for all the players and families involved with the program in year one, and exciting for everyone involved at the youth level knowing those players will have the opportunity to compete at the high school level one day,” Janda said. “This is also another step forward for the entire Lehigh Valley Lacrosse community, as this is still a relatively new sport in the area.”
Janda, too, expects there to be a learning curve when adjusting to the high school level competition.
“Most of these guys have only played at the youth or club level,” Janda said. “Organized high school lacrosse is a different ball game. Things happen very quickly on the field and it’s hard to replicate some of those in-game situations the players will find themselves in.”
As many Colonial League teams are still without lacrosse, Northwestern’s schedules will feature some East Penn Conference teams and nonleague foes as well.
The lacrosse teams will practice and play on the soccer fields next to the middle school.