A wise man once said “you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles himself on the lacrosse field”, and at Oxford University, it is fair to say that this maxim holds true. Lacrosse pushes a person to their limits. It confines some to the hospital bed; it reduces some to tears; but, for a select few, it brings triumph.
Despite its recent increase in popularity, few are well acquainted with the rules of the sport. The aim of the game is to score more goals than your opponents, by cradling (holding the ball in the net of your stick whilst running), passing, and eventually shooting. The rules differ greatly between the men’s version, which is contact, and the women’s, which is not. There are 12 players on a women’s team, and only 10 on a men’s team.
The sticks used in the two games also differ. While the women’s tend to be of a uniform length, in the men’s game the lengths vary depending on one’s position, with defenders’ sticks being substantially longer than attackers. The duration of the games varies greatly between college and university level, and indeed between the male and female versions. Whereas college mixed lacrosse games generally last only 15 minutes, professional men’s games typically consist of four quarters of 20 minutes each.
Lacrosse has traditionally been a white-dominated sport in the States, with its roots firmly fixed in North American private schools and elite Universities, although was based on a North American Indian game. Virginia University junior, Shamel “the future” Bratton’s rise to the top of the game, as a black male, is all the more impressive. Bratton landed a lacrosse scholarship to Virginia in the summer of 2007, and has since progressed to the extent that he can expect a multi-million dollar contract from a Major Lacrosse League side upon graduating. Bratton’s stunning goal against archrivals Duke University in April 2008 (a Youtube favourite of lacrosse fanatics) epitomised the coalition of all the stunning facets the sport has to offer – the athleticism, explosive attacking flair and the sheer audacity. Shamel’s exuberant display of what commentator Quint Kessenich called “shaking and baking” a helpless defender, combined with “ankle breaking” is a striking example of the delights of watching lacrosse.
The sport is awash with very specific terminology. One of the best examples of this is the technique known as “cradling” which has since evolved into “power cradling”, a move devilishly difficult to master, but deviously destructive when employed. It involves keeping the ball in the net of a moving head of a lacrosse stick, whilst employing a “curling” technique, keeping the shaft of the stick parallel with the ground.
Is lacrosse capable of inspiring equal devotion across the pond? Men’s lacrosse is one of the national sports in the US and is a multi million-dollar industry, whereas it is relatively non-existent in the UK. Here, women’s lacrosse is much more popular than the men’s game, but even this is still limited to a few private schools in the country, and hence is not very widespread. “Players have to pay to represent regions, even England”, as current national player and Hertford College undergraduate Charlotte Houston lamented earlier in the term, contributing to a perception of lacrosse as an elitist sport.
But lacrosse has shown significant signs of growth within Oxford University in recent years. Many colleges put out mixed teams: Keble, Hertford, and Trinity, to name but a few. Interestingly enough, many colleges report high numbers of beginners signing up to try the sport, seemingly entranced by the allure of such a fast, skilful and athletic sport.
Every weekend, colleges do battle on the lacrosse field in pursuit of glory. At university level, there are men’s, women’s and mixed teams, which have all enjoyed success this year, with the mixed team, in particular, maintaining a 100% record so far and the women’s blue team winning over half of their matches. The men’s team has been blessed with an influx of talented players from all over the world, helping them to put out extremely competitive sides.
To all enthusiastic freshe
rs out there, and indeed second and third years who are yet to sample the delights of this most majestic sport, your college needs you! College teams are the best place to start, with mixed teams always great fun. From there the Blues teams, ably captained by Freddie Snowball and Claire Sutcliffe, are always looking for new blood – so what’s stopping you?