ND Free Pass: Lacrosse

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

The usher at the April 23 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse game halted my entry into Arlotta Stadium. “There’s free barbecue in that tent,” he said, pointing off to the side. “You should try it.” As anyone who attends ND sporting events knows, it’s not wise to argue with an usher.

Upon my return, after I’d enjoyed the Famous Dave’s catered meal, the same usher offered yet another directive: “Enjoy the game!”

It’s hard not to. Lacrosse, a fast-moving competition that’s been called a combination of basketball, soccer and hockey, is fun to watch, as you marvel at the players’ ability to run around like crazy, to catch a small rubber ball in a pocket at the end of a long stick, and, for the offense, to somehow get through blockers and shoot the ball into the goal. Scores tend to fluctuate, upping the tension for spectators.

At both the April 2 men’s game against Villanova and the April 23 women’s game against Georgetown, the fans’ excitement level remained high, as a win was never a sure thing. “What’s happening?” an elderly man said to me during the first quarter of the men’s game, as the then second-ranked ND team fell behind their eighth-ranked opponent.

I had the same question during the women’s game, as I watched the ND team’s seven-goal lead begin to evaporate, thanks to five unanswered Georgetown scores.

At both games, fans were not remiss in letting the referees hear their opinions of calls. But they also called their own penalties. Once, when a ’Nova player on the sidelines let his colorful disgust be heard, a spectator quickly called him on it: “Ahh, sensitive ears,” the fan said. “Watch it!!” Those sensitive ears included a several middle-school students, who show up for the games carrying their own lacrosse sticks.

After making fans sweat the outcome, both games I saw ended with a win for ND. But seeing the men’s and the women’s games left me with questions. Why do the men wear protective headgear and the women only goggles? Why do the women keep dropping the ball out of the pockets of their sticks? Why do the men play 15-minute quarters, the women 30-minute halves? And did I miscount, or did the women have more players on the field? And that field … did the goal get moved back when the women played?

Thanks to nearby fans and some Google research, I learned that the men and women do play by different rules. The basics are the same — you score points in lacrosse by flinging the ball into the opposing team’s goal — but only the men are allowed to body check, which explains their more encompassing headgear and rougher play. And the women drop the ball more often than the men because the pocket at the end of their crosse is shallower. It’s like baseball and softball. Sort of the same, sort of not.

Whichever version you might prefer, the Notre Dame lacrosse program clearly is fan-friendly. At men’s and at women’s game, you get a program, a colorful home schedule magnet and a poster. For special events, like the Lax for the Cure game at the women’s home closer on April 23, dedicated to raising money to fight breast cancer, trading cards and pink pompoms were available, as was the barbecue. Children age 13 and under were admitted free, and an Easter egg hunt and autograph session took place after the game.

During breaks at the games, to keep the crowds revved up, although that wasn’t always necessary, rockin’ party music is played. If you’re lucky, as I was at the men’s game, you might see a couple of joyfully unabashed kids dancing to “The Cha Cha Slide.” They moved to the left, they moved to the right, and, at the end, everybody clapped their hands.

Check out ND Free Pass for a sampling the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.