Joco Sports

Lacrosse nation relishes the spotlight

Lacrosse is still a club sport at the high school level across Kansas City. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that it hasn’t arrived, or that it doesn’t have staying power.

The large crowd at UMKC’s Durwood Soccer Stadium last Friday for the Lacrosse Association of Kansas City (LAKC) title game suggests otherwise.

Shawnee Mission East defeated Pembroke Hill 10-6 to win its second straight LAKC championship. Student cheering sections anchored both ends of the stands. Elementary and middle school players, many toting their lacrosse sticks, seemed to be everywhere.

The field was full of players who treat lacrosse as more than just a passing hobby.

“I’ve been playing since fifth grade. I’ve always been a sports player,” Pembroke Hill senior Evan Copaken said. “I played football, basketball, baseball, golf. I see lacrosse as being a combination of all those sports. It takes the best elements of each of those sports and combines it into one single game. I love playing it. I can’t imagine going through high school without it.”

The LAKC was formed two years ago, and played its first title game last year at Sporting Park. Rockhurst and Pembroke Hill on the Missouri side previously traveled to St. Louis to play before the LAKC’s inception. The LAKC now has 15 teams, six of which are in Missouri.

SM East has won the first two LAKC titles, and it won a Lacrosse Associaton of Kansas Schools title before that. Lancers coach Chris Kliewer is happy to have competition on both sides of the state line.

“Look at the people in the stands. Last year there were 1,200 people at Livestrong. People are excited, and it’s raising the level of play,” Kliewer said. “It’s a lot of fun. To think we were playing at Blue Valley West three years ago, and now here we are at UMKC having a good time.”

The title game last Friday was preceded by an eighth grade all-star game. Many of of those fans and players stuck around for the title game.

“My dad was a big lacrosse player, he brought me into it,” Shawnee Mission East’s Johnathan Aliber said. “At my grade school, a lot of people played there, and it’s grown a lot throughout Kansas City.”

Copaken’s lacrosse career isn’t over. He plans to play on Wake Forest University’s club team next year.

“I think it’s developed more in the past three or four years than it has in the last 5-10 years," he said. "I think you can really see that with how many people were here.”

College lacrosse has been a spring fixture on cable sports television in recent years. High school competition also has grown, although it is not yet televised.

Lacrosse is out there, and someday it might not be too hard to find.