Here’s one for the little guy. Well, maybe not little in stature, but moments from “Hoosiers” only come along so often.
In a move approved in January, high school boys’ lacrosse will split in two classes, starting with the 2013 season. From the area, that means the Lewis-Palmer/Palmer Ridge co-op and Palmer will compete in 5A, and Air Academy, Cheyenne Mountain, Fountain Valley/Colorado Springs School and St. Mary’s will take part in the 4A class.
Not one to usually celebrate a breakup, St. Mary’s coach Drew Frank especially saw the need for the 64-team field – and growing by the year – to finally undergo modifications that should level the playing field in some regards.
With an enrollment of 333, St. Mary’s is the state’s smallest school to field an independent lacrosse program. In the current one-class format, it had no choice but to play David in a sport of Goliath-type teams, such as perennial powers Arapahoe, Monarch, Kent Denver and, locally, Air Academy, which had a staggering 120 athletes show up for tryouts earlier this year.
“Now with 4A and 5A, it’s an excellent step in the right direction,” said Frank, who just finished his third season at the 6-year-old St. Mary’s program. “I think with the addition of 4A, it’s more of an incentive to start a program, to feel better about joining. Hopefully, this encourages smaller schools to say ‘Hey, let’s try this.'”
Next year, 5A programs Dakota Ridge and Lakewood join the boys’ lacrosse family. In 2014, Pine Creek will field a varsity boys’ lacrosse team, also joining the 5A ranks.
“If you look at the history of boys’ state champs, 5A will definitely be the tougher division,” said Lewis-Palmer/Palmer Ridge coach Alan Smith, a Widefield graduate who spent a season on the practice squad of Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. But I do think it’ll be more beneficial for the smaller schools. Having two state champions will help out quite a bit, too.”
At 8-6, St. Mary’s had its best season and broke several school records but wasn’t good enough to break into the postseason. Next year, a similar record in 4A might do the trick.
However, the Pirates still have to contend with area juggernauts Cheyenne Mountain and Air Academy, who both advanced to the playoffs and face off at 7 p.m. Friday at Cheyenne Mountain.
“Right now, if you don’t win your conference, you don’t have much of a chance at the playoffs,” Frank said. “We’re still going to play in a conference with great 4A competition, but if you can put together a good enough record, you’ll have a shot at the 4A playoffs."
Both 5A and 4A will take 16 teams to the playoffs, according to Harry Waterman, Colorado High School Activities Association assistant commissioner.
“I would think that could only help the smaller schools,” Waterman said. “It’s good that they’re branching out and helping more kids get a taste of what high school lacrosse is all about. It’s the state’s fastest-growing sport by far.”