There are 18 high schools in Arizona that play lacrosse in the spring. There are a couple from the Tucson area. The rest are in the Valley.
And one program, Phoenix Brophy Prep, has grown into a giant with more than 100 players combining varsity and two junior varsity teams, finding competition outside of the state. Brophy Prep is the only school in Arizona with two JV teams.
The teams are run by the Arizona Lacrosse League with a North and South division for varsity teams.
This has never been a sanctioned sport by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. And, without administrators knocking down the AIA’s door, clamoring to make it a sanctioned sport, there will never be lacrosse in the AIA.
But it’s played as a club sport, and at Brophy Prep and other schools, it is embraced, drawing decent crowds. Players earn letters and attend banquets at the end of the season.
“Luckily, the school looks at it as a varsity sport,” said second-year head coach Pat Harbeson, who grew up in Annapolis, Maryland playing lacrosse and won a national championship in 2011 with the University of Virginia. “There are other teams that pull from a couple of other high schools. There are 30-some kids on the varsity who all go to Brophy. They have lifting, a strength and conditioning coach. They have nice uniforms. We treat this like a real sport. “
But, like all schools that have lacrosse, the team has to pay fees to the school to cover all expenses that come with running a club program, Athletic Director Josh Garcia said.
“Other than that, we treat them just like any other AIA-sanctioned sport,” Garcia said. “They have access to our weight room, strength coaches, athletic trainers, and sport campus.
“Lacrosse at our school is very popular and Coach Harbeson and his staff are doing a great job promoting the sport. We have a number of good athletes who do not make a particular sports team and try lacrosse and end up loving it.
“Our lower-level coaches do a good job introducing the sports to kids who are less experienced. Our program has both ends, from a very experienced player who also plays on an elite club team that contributes on varsity to a kid who did not make another team that wants to try a new sport who learns to love the sport.
“Our program would not be as successful without the support of our lacrosse parents. We have a group of dads whose passion is growing the game of lacrosse and they are certainly instrumental in making our program what it is. They do everything from assisting with team travel to game operations. Without a parent group like we have, I could see lacrosse being a tough sport for a school to add.
Brophy Prep is the only team that hasn’t lost an in-state game. The Broncos are 10-0 in Arizona with their only two losses to Mater Dei of Santa Ana, California, and Palo Verde of Las Vegas.
The loss to Mater Dei, a nationally recognized program that plays in a state that sanctions the sport, was by one point.
“I think it showed that we’re on the tipping point of becoming a recognizable program in the West Coast, if we stay humble and work hard, and get lacrosse players into the school,” Harbeson said.
Harbeson, 30, plays in the PLL, a professional traveling lacrosse league that goes from Memorial Day to Labor Day and pays for travel, hotel, and equipment, along with a salary that ranges from $ 25,000 to $ 75,000.
Lacrosse is huge in the East, where Harbeson grew up. It’s not taken off like that in Arizona. But Harbeson was surprised when he moved here a few years ago that there was even lacrosse played.
Youth lacrosse has spread from Phoenix to Tucson for all age groups.
Without AIA jurisdiction – no recruiting rules or restrictions – Harbeson can woo players to come to Brophy to play lacrosse. He wants to make Brophy lacrosse big not just in Arizona but in the West.
And he wants serious players only.
“We’re trying to create a culture here,” Harbeson said. “My biggest MO is the game is important. We want to win but we want to win at life. And I want to teach these kids the right way to play the game, and the right way to win at life. That entails taking care of the little things on and off the field. “
Insurance and equipment costs aren’t factors preventing lacrosse from being an AIA sanctioned sport for boys and girls, said David Hines, executive director of the AIA.
Hines said it’s all about demand. And if the schools aren’t asking for lacrosse, then the AIA won’t be sanctioning it.
“We’ve had interest,” Hines said. “But mainly the interest has come from outside groups. Not from our schools. Some of our schools have lacrosse. But there hasn’t been much of a push through the school.
“I think a few of the biggest things you have to keep in mind, several of the school teams have kids from other schools (that don’t have lacrosse). They combine. It’s great for what they’re doing. But if they ‘re in the AIA, they have to be at their own school.
“The other thing probably is the coaches. There are coaches that coach club, but how many coach lacrosse at the high school? There’s not a lot of them. I think the challenge for ADs would be to find coaches.”
Harbeson takes pride in the fact that every player in his program attends Brophy. Lacrosse has been relevant for a while at Brophy, which produced Gov. Doug Ducey’s son, Joe, who was a top player.
Cole Rassas, a senior attack player (similar to a forward in soccer), who has scored 80 points this season, has been one of Brophy’s leaders. He began playing in the second grade.
He says Brophy is good to the program, but he knows it is a club sport. There is a pecking order, and lacrosse players have to wait for the track and field teams to finish their workouts to begin practice, which usually begins around 6 pm, each night.
“I try to leave everything on the field every day, knowing my practices are numbered,” Rassas said. “I’d really like to end on a win.
“We’re very hungry, very motivated.”
Rassas, who will attend Air Force to play lacrosse, learned lacrosse from his father and uncle. His father of him played lacrosse at Air Force, and his uncle of him played the sport at the University of Notre Dame.
“I used to like baseball, but, in fourth grade, lacrosse became my passion, and I’ve been playing ever since,” Rassas said. “The hand-eye coordination is huge, so catching came naturally because of baseball. Lacrosse helped my brother and I pick up hockey last year.”
Senior Caleb Greenfield, who plays attack and will play in college at NCAA Division III Illinois Wesleyan, has scored about 30 points this season for the Broncos. The game has been his passion about him since the third grade.
“It’s been an escape from everything else,” Greenfield said. “It’s great to have a great group of guys as buddies. I’ve met a lot of great connections.”
Last year, when Brophy lost to Boulder Creek in the championship game in overtime, the stands at Phoenix Arcadia High School were packed. That 13-12 loss still stings.
“That provided the humility we needed this year,” Harbeson said.
Harbeson wants to see the sport grow in high schools, even if it stays club status. That shouldn’t keep Arizona from gaining a national reputation in lacrosse. He’s a stickler for detail, keeping players out if they forget their jerseys.
“I care about the kids,” Harbeson said. “Sometimes the tough love is confused with, ‘Coach is being a hard-ass.’ But I want to set them up for life. Maybe down the road, when they’re in college, in life, they’ll look back and see that it helped them. ”
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