Girls lacrosse catching fire in Central Oregon

High school girls team combines players from three Bend schools

Heather Clark / The Bulletin /

Published Apr 9, 2007 at 05:00AM

There was a big vacancy in Hilary Gilmore's life when she moved to Bend from the Portland area.

The girls lacrosse coach who led West Linn High School to two state championships was missing her favorite sport terribly.

”The first year I moved over here and left the West Linn program, which was my baby, I drove back there to make sure that the transition to a new coach went smoothly and I went back and helped out the Wilsonville (High School program),” says Gilmore, a spry and energetic 58-year-old.

”I loved it so much, loved the kids, loved participating so much in it,” adds Gilmore, who coached girls lacrosse at West Linn High for seven years before moving to Bend in the fall of 2004. ”I missed it. I would go back for three days of the week and do some coaching.”

So Gilmore did what passionate people do when they see a need in the community: She went to work.

In this case, she lit a fire under girls lacrosse in Central Oregon.

Gilmore approached area high schools, set up informational meetings for players and parents, and negotiated a practice time and field.

Then, in March, it all came together.

Approximately 30 girls from Bend, Mountain View and Summit high schools make up a conglomerate lacrosse team - the Lady Spartans - that will play a limited junior varsity schedule this spring.

”That's why this has been kind of of a dream for me, to be able to start this, and have this kind of response,” Gilmore says. ”It's just fabulous. It gives me hope that it might catch on.”

The first contest for the Lady Spartans is Saturday in Eugene, where they will face JV squads from Sheldon and Corvallis.

Gilmore believes that this season's turnout - nearly triple what she had expected - is a sign of lacrosse's future for girls in Central Oregon.

And, Gilmore adds, with a burgeoning interest among girls at Sisters and Redmond high schools, future teams in Central Oregon could form their own league to compete as part of the Oregon Girls Lacrosse Association.

This spring, four Central Oregon high schools are fielding boys varsity teams that compete in the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association. And, over the past year, enrollment in the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District's coed youth lacrosse program has grown to some 330 participants.

One of the biggest obstacles to developing girls lacrosse in the area, Gilmore believes, is a shortage of coaches and referees who know the girls game.

”Any women in the community who have any experience, this is where they could really help by coming forward,” Gilmore pleads. ”Any parents who want to learn to referee ... if we decide to join a league next year, we'll have to provide two refs or we won't be able to join.”

Although there are several key rule differences, the main difference between boys and girls lacrosse is physical contact: boys are allowed to make contact during play, and girls are not. This affects not only the equipment required, but the strategy of the game as well.

For now, the mixed-school crew that practices daily on a Mountain View soccer field is still learning the basics of lacrosse: passing, catching, cutting to the ball, and rules of the game.

Only a handful of the girls on the team, including Seven Peaks Middle School's Tarryn Allen, arrived on the field three weeks ago with any real lacrosse background. And only one player, Mountain View junior Danielle Mistler, a recent transfer from New Hampshire, has experience competing at the high school level.

”What we tried to get across, was just how exciting it was that they were here,” Gilmore says, recounting the team's first meeting. ”We tried to put them at ease. You've come to the right sport, you're going to love it.”

Although Gilmore was part of the coaching staff at a second-year West Linn program, the former high school player from Maryland entered new territory when she started the Bend program from scratch.

”I've never had so many beginners,” she says. ”Even though there's some kids with some stick work, they don't know how the game works. It's very different from soccer and basketball, and you just move at different angles.

”They don't have the modeling from a group that has a year under their belt - no varsity that models the speed and intensity at which you go.”

Gilmore estimates that about two-thirds of the players on the team also participate in another high school sport, such as soccer.

”Maybe 30 percent,” she adds, ”are just saying, 'I've never done a sport, I'll try this out.' ”

Mistler, the New Hampshire transfer and the most experienced player on the team, is also its most vocal cheerleader. When she first learned that there was no high school girls lacrosse in Bend, she was disappointed about moving to Central Oregon last summer.

”I wanted to play so badly,” says the team co-captain.

Mistler says she has watched the intensity and confidence grow among her teammates over recent weeks.

”I try to pump them up so they don't get discouraged,” Mistler says.

But for many newcomers to lacrosse, like Bend High sophomore Kirsten Svendsen, the game has been a natural fit.

”Everyone was so supportive of each other, all learning together,” says Svendsen, bubbling with enthusiasm as she recalls the team's first practice. ”I could hardly catch, and now we're actually playing and scrimmaging.

”It's amazing how fast we picked it up.”

Svendsen, who also plays soccer, says she likes the sound the ball makes when she catches it in the net of her stick.

”It's the feeling, too, of getting it right in the pocket,” she describes. ”I love the game and the competition.

”I look forward to it every day after school.”

For more information on girls lacrosse, visit www.oregonlax.com.