The popularity of lacrosse is increasing in the Mid-Columbia, and the Three Rivers Coyotes high school girls junior varsity team is part of the boom.
The Coyotes have 17 area girls on their roster — and there’s always room for more, they say.
“It’s a really easy environment to come into and learn and have fun,” said Richland sophomore Taryn Webb, who is in her third season of lacrosse.
GETTING INTO LACROSSE
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The Three Rivers Lacrosse Club team, coached by River View High School principal Chris Davis, is playing a 13-game schedule this year. Saturday, the Coyotes will host Puyallup JV at 11 a.m. and Gonzaga JV at 3:30 p.m. at Badger Mountain Community Park in Richland. Their season lasts about as long as the spring sports season for high schools.
Many of the Three Rivers girls play high school sports. Mahri Davis, Chris’ daughter, was on the Southridge JV basketball team last season. Webb is a point guard for the Richland varsity squad.
Richland sophomore Madison Mahaffey tried soccer, softball and even dance, but none of them stuck like lacrosse.
“I think there’s this misconception of sports where you have to pick one sport, and with us, we are so multifaceted,” said assistant coach JoJo Davis, Chris’ wife. “Two of our girls are on an all-state choir. We have girls that play multiple sports. There’s volleyball, basketball. Last year, one of our really good players played on an elite soccer team, and she’d just come to practice when she could.
“Lacrosse is a nice sport that if you understand offense and defense, if you have an athletic knowledge, it’s an easy blend into it.”
For a good lacrosse team, you need all kinds of athletes. ... You need smart kids, fast kids, tall kids, go-get-’em kids, scrappy kids, and there’s a role for everybody on the team. The other thing I like is that a lot of parents don't know the sport, so it really belongs to the kids.
Kate Roper, Washington Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association president
For those who aren’t into traditional sports, lacrosse can be an exciting alternative, Chris Davis said.
“My kids didn’t like baseball and softball,” he said. “My daughter thought softball was too slow-paced. She wanted to try something different, so she took up lacrosse. It’s a nice mix — it’s kind of hockey, soccer, basketball all slammed together.”
A DIFFERENT KIND OF GAME
Richland junior Molly Wireman was into hockey before taking up lacrosse, which her brother played.
“I’d toss the ball with my brother sometimes, but I used a boys stick, which is different, so I kind of knew the motions,” she said. “But transferring over to the girls sticks was hard, and cradling was really hard. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun, but at first, it’s kind of frustrating because you drop the ball a lot.”
Girls lacrosse isn’t as full of contact as the boys game, and girls usually don’t wear helmets or as much protective gear as the boys.
“All the boys players were always like, ‘How come you guys can’t do this? How come you can’t do that?’ and we’re like, ‘It’s just kind of how the game is,’ ” said Richland sophomore Chloe Mitchell, whose father, Chad, coaches the Richland Lacrosse Club for high school boys. “Sometimes it’s really hard to not play with contact, and that’s where I get most of my yellow cards. But it’s really fun because it forces you to play defense more with your feet rather than your body.”
Kennewick junior MiahKoi Asher stopped playing basketball and volleyball after hurting her knee.
“You can definitely get bumped and bruised a lot during this sport,” Asher said, “but you just gotta know how to handle your injuries and know how to treat them well and know your physical limits.”
EAST VS. WEST
The Coyotes are one of 32 junior varsity teams in the Washington Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association, meaning they do not participate in a playoff format. Three of those teams — Three Rivers and Spokane’s Big Cat and Gonzaga JV — are from Eastern Washington.
There are 33 varsity teams in Washington that are eligible to play for a state championship. Wenatchee is the only team east of the Cascade Mountains that is at the varsity level, but Chris Davis says Three Rivers wants to apply to move up to varsity next year.
The Coyotes say that, depending on whether you are in Eastern or Western Washington, games can feature different styles of play.
“A lot of refs around here on the east side are really strict, and they call everything,” Webb said. “But some refs will let you play more, and it’s pretty physical sometimes.”
The talent level on the west side is strong because the sport has been around there longer and the region has so many teams.
“Whenever we play the teams on the other side of the state, it’s really kind of like a slap to the face, but also a really good eye-opener,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we think that we’re pretty good compared to the teams that we play against, but when we see how good they are, then it kind of makes us want to get better and become as good as they are.”
These girls don’t have to look far for a future in lacrosse beyond the Three Rivers Coyotes.
Former Three Rivers player Ann Marie McKnight is playing club lacrosse as a freshman at Washington State University.
Whitman College in Walla Walla has an NCAA Division III women’s team that plays in the Northwest Conference with George Fox, Pacific (Ore.), Puget Sound and Linfield.
Mitchell has ventured farther out, going to lacrosse camps at BYU and Tusculum College in Tennessee.
“Those were really good,” Mitchell said. “They really work on footwork, and it’s good to see the competition that is there. My brother (McKay) plays for BYU right now, so we’ve seen a couple of their games.”
Three Rivers, which does not have geographical restrictions for players, also has girls teams for grades 1-4 and 5-8, as well as youth squads for grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. The Tri-Cities Youth Lacrosse Club is for youths in grades 1-8 in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. High school boys who live within the boundaries of the Richland, Pasco and Kiona-Benton City school districts can join the Richland Lacrosse Club. Those within the boundaries for Kamiakin, Kennewick, Southridge, River View and Walla Walla high schools are eligible to play for the Southridge Lacrosse Club.
For girls who just want to see what lacrosse is about, the Coyotes encourage them to come out and try it. They offer preseason and summer clinics.
“It’s definitely hard at first, especially if you haven’t played a sport before, but once you get past the learning stage and once you get good at it, it’s super fun, and there’s really no going back,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a really fun way to be active, and there are so many skills you can incorporate into it that you can always improve.”