North Kitsap lacrosse teams still searching for critical mass

The North Kitsap boys high school lacrosse team practices at Strawberry Fields in Poulsbo.  - Brian J. Olson/Staff photo
The North Kitsap boys high school lacrosse team practices at Strawberry Fields in Poulsbo.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

POULSBO — For the North Kitsap boys and girls lacrosse teams, growth is a key word. The boys have it, the girls are searching for it.

This year the boys team — made up of students from both Kingston and North Kitsap high schools — is bigger than ever, with a 30-player roster. Head Coach Brian O’Connor said the team’s popularity is due to burgeoning interest among younger players.

“The big factor is that we have the middle school program active,” he said.

O’Connor helped generate interest in the sport at the middle school level. While players must buy their own sticks and mouth guards, the club provides other protective equipment. O’Connor believes keeping the costs down has helped the program develop.

“We’re a sport that people have to pay to play far more than any other sport, as far as I know,” said Val Torrens, the high school girls coach.

Lacrosse is a club sport, not a school-sponsored activity, so the standard school district athletic fees do not apply to it. Students pay $75 per sport, or a maximum of $150 per year, to participate in up to three sports sponsored by the high schools. At the middle school level, athletes pay $50 per sport, or a maximum of $100 a year.

Because lacrosse incurs separate fees of about $150 per athlete, and because the sport isn’t as popular as other spring activities like soccer, baseball and tennis, the North Kitsap teams have struggled to grow. Although interest is up among the boys, the girls still have trouble finding enough players. The high school girls team has 16 players, while the middle school team is non-existent this year.

Teams have also had trouble generating support from would-be coaches and volunteers.

That negative trend may be diminishing.

“This year, we have a great group of parents helping us out,” O’Connor said.

But with high turnover among the players and the lack of a feeder program at the younger levels, teams struggle to find consistency.

“There’s new people, and you’ve got to give them a chance,” said girls team captain Kaley Velarde. “Everyone’s just learning new things together.”

That’s also true for the boys.

“We’re just trying to get all the plays taught so we can really run them in our games,” said attacker Ryan Perez.

Most players can deal with the steep learning curve. Many local teams also lack experience but make up for it with heart.

“These guys just want to have fun when it comes down to it,” O’Connor said. “They’re just excited that they’re finally truly competitive.”

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