High school lacrosse: With switch to IHSA competition, local teams anticipating 2019 season

The word Prairie Ridge lacrosse coach Josh Cole kept coming back to regarding the 2019 season was “legitimacy.”

Local lacrosse teams, who have played as high school-affiliated clubs, will become a larger part of their schools’ athletic landscapes this spring.

In the second year of IHSA-sanctioned lacrosse, all 10 area schools with boys teams will play as IHSA teams. The season begins March 11, and the IHSA state tournament will be played May 30 and June 1 at Hinsdale Central.

“The legitimacy thing makes it a big deal,” Cole said. “I’m sure kids at the youth level are looking at lacrosse differently seeing that there’s more of an end game. Not that club was anything to turn your nose up at, but having there be a high school sport gives it a lot more legitimacy.”

The Illinois High School Lacrosse Association served teams well before and offered a postseason series, but players eagerly await playing in a true high school tournament.

“We’re excited to rep our school,” Prairie Ridge midfielder Ethan Kirchberg said. “A lot of people have not heard a lot about our program [before], and it’s exciting to get it out there. We’re real excited to actually have something to work for [the state tournament] this year.”

Last year, Huntley and Marian Central were the only area teams to play IHSA lacrosse. The District 155 schools (Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge), the D-300 schools (Dundee-Crown, Hampshire and Jacobs) and McHenry all played IHSLA while they figured out their next move. When D-155 approved IHSA lacrosse, the other four went along to keep the Fox Valley Conference teams together.

There will be a wider variety of opponents, school athletic directors now handle scheduling, and teams get transportation and use of high school fields. Teams played under their high school names, but there were limitations.

“We weren’t allowed to use high school facilities,” Jacobs coach John Bigler said. “This year, we’ll be all at the school. We’ve had team meetings, used the weight room, done open gyms, so from that perspective it will be different. We have guys from other sports that, now that we’re an official sport, they’re going to come out.”

Bigler really appreciates that he can hand over some responsibilities to athletic director Joe Benoit and no longer worry about scheduling or transportation or paying officials. McHenry coach Mike Richberg particularly likes that his team will ride together on a bus to games.

“The kids no longer have to drive themselves,” Richberg said. “Not being concerned about your players getting there is a huge win. From a team concept it helps out. More time together as a team, moving as a team, it’s a lot better.”

Coaches and players also cannot wait to play under the lights of their schools’ stadiums.

“That’s a huge morale lift for the kids,” Richberg said. “In the past, we’ve played a couple of playoff games there and one regular-season game. We’ll have four or five games at McCracken Field. They love playing there.”

Cole said Prairie Ridge’s regular home will be the football stadium.

“The boys are real excited to play in the stadium this year,” said Kirchberg, who played there in previous falls for football, as well. “We have a lot to look forward to this year. It should be exciting.”

For girls lacrosse, Huntley, McHenry, D-155 and D-300 will have teams locally. As interest grows, the D-155 schools and the D-300 schools eventually may split off and each have multiple teams.

Coaches don’t believe the changes will be drastic since they previously adhered to rules similar to those of other IHSA sports.

“You try to operate via IHSA rules in the hope of when you do become a member with the school, you’re prepared for those type of eligibility rules,” Richberg said.

The FVC teams will play each other one time, with Thursdays designated as nights for conference games.

“Last year, because so many teams went IHSA, we were left with 10 or 12 teams to play against,” Bigler said. “There wasn’t much variation there. Our numbers took a hit. We couldn’t advertise. I’m hoping over the next year or two we’ll build those numbers back up.”

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