Grand Valley lacrosse teams ready to start the high school season
Baseball gloves are getting broken in, tennis rackets restrung, soccer balls inflated, golf clubs cleaned and track shoes laced up tight.
And the spring athletes are making room for the newest varsity sport in the Grand Valley — lacrosse.
At Canyon View Park, more than 120 lacrosse players have their first practice Tuesday as the Grand Valley Lightning.
“I was really excited because now we have opportunity to letter and play some different schools,” Shawn Ryden said. “We can now go to the state playoffs.“
Roughly 80 boys will be separated into varsity, junior varsity and one club teams based out of Grand Junction High School. The girls will be based out of Fruita Monument, with about 40 girls on a varsity and JV team.
That’s not bad for an idea that started four years ago by Grand Valley Lacrosse President Lenny Lang.
Girls lacrosse has been sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association for 11 years, boys lacrosse for 10.
The sport has grown so much, last year’s state championship game was played at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.
It was time it became a high school sport in Grand Junction, Lang said.
“This is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. and all the mountain teams have been waiting for us to get it,” Lang said. “I didn’t think it would take off like it did.”
Lang, who was raised on the East Coast, grew up playing the sport and started Grand Valley
Lacrosse when his son, Cameron, got interested in the sport.
The first year of existence, the club had 23 kids playing on a team combined of players in grades 6-8.
Since then, the club has exploded.
“We have been expanding on both ends,” Lang said. “We have opened it up to a girls team as well as dropping the starting age to fourth- and fifth-graders.”
Lang won’t be directly involved with the high school teams, but will continue to work with the club teams.
“We want a feeder program if we are going to keep playing high school sanctioned ball,” Lang said. “As it grows, I could envision each school having its own team.”
Getting LightNing to strike
Getting lacrosse sanctioned in School District 51 was not an easy task. The club made its case in several school board meetings before it was approved.
Four other Western Slope club teams (Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain, Durango and Aspen) applied to become CHSAA sanctioned about the same time, helping the Grand Valley club’s cause.
“That was the main reason why basically if we didn’t go CHSAA, we wouldn’t have anyone to play,” Lang said. “It was a group effort by everyone to make that step.”
Grand Valley Lacrosse is footing the bill for the boys and girls programs.
“We are paying our own way,” Lang said. “It is upwards of $50,000, but registration and fundraising is helping.”
It’s costing players $200 to play, $70 for the School District 51 activity fee and $130 so Grand Valley Lacrosse can meet expenses.
Once the teams were given permission to go forward, the logistics took over, finding coaches, officials, scheduling, buying equipment and making travel arrangements. The list went on and on.
Lang didn’t see a reason to go in a different direction in terms of coaching.
Dave Zabronsky will move in to the boys varsity coaching position, with Robin Stevens coaching the girls.
Coach Z and the boys
Zabronsky is about as qualified a coach as the Lightning could want. Zabronsky played at the University of Denver and has been a high school head coach in San Diego.
Zabronsky took over as the Grand Valley coach midway through last season and led the team to a 7-1 record in the final eight games.
Zabronsky, who has coached high school and college hockey and tennis, has concentrated on lacrosse the past 10 years.
“Lacrosse is a great sport,” Zabronsky said. “Being fast and tough are two qualities that you need for lacrosse. If you have those things, you can be a tremendous player in the first year.”
Zabronsky said he is turning up the intensity for the first high school season.
“The atmosphere and culture will be a bit different,” Zabronsky said. “When I came in last year, I tried to put in a few more rules. This year there will be stricter rules, more discipline and treating kids how they would be treating in any other varsity sport.”
Although this is the first year for boys varsity lacrosse, this team isn’t inexperienced. A core group of players have been together since eighth grade, said Fruita Monument junior Cameron Lang.
“There are about 10 of us that have been playing since the first year we had it,” Lang said. “So I think we will be pretty good.”
Zabronsky said the Lightning’s expectations are not only to compete, but to do some damage in the Mountain League, which is made up of Grand Valley, Aspen, Summit County, Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Durango.
“We believe this is our year,” Zabronsky said. “Aspen has graduated some seniors and the core of our players are juniors who have had playing time. All of our underclassmen are very excited for this year.”
Some of the players Zabronsky hopes will contribute are goalie Josh Lee, long-pole midfielder Stuart Foster, defenseman AJ Meil, midfielders Willie Stevens and Taylor Watkins as well as attackman Jeff Cunningham.
The first game is March 13 when the Lightning host Aspen.
The girls team doesn’t have as much experience as the boys, and Stevens said this year is going to be more about learning than anything else.
“We would like to win, but more, I hope everyone learns a lot,” Stevens said. “I want everyone to learn a lot of different positions. This will be a big growing year for the girls.”
Stevens got involved in lacrosse when her son, Willie, picked it up. She was an assistant on the first girls team last year when her daughter, Pamela, played. Stevens wanted to make sure the girls had the opportunity to play.
“I didn’t want to see the girls’ side go away,” Stevens said. “They needed help with the club and there are a lot of resources that I studied.”
Stephanie Long will be the team’s goalie. Pamela Stevens and Katie Heil are expected to be team leaders.
The girls begin their season March 14 when they host Durango. The girls league is smaller, with Grand Valley, Durango, Glenwood Springs, Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain.
The addition of lacrosse may seem like a bit much, with baseball, boys swimming, track and field, girls golf, girls tennis and girls soccer all competing in the spring. For the players, though, it’s their opportunity to compete.
“We are a bunch of kids that were wanting to play sports and not just sit around,” Foster said.
“We have some big numbers coming in and it is going to be grand seeing all the kids playing.”
Foster has more experience than most of the other Grand Valley players. He started playing in third grade and hopes to play in college.
“We are looking to get kids playing in college,” Zabronsky said. “Stu is a good one because he is not only interested, but has the talent to do it.”
Lacrosse is also attracting first-time players like Central’s Trevor Moss, a former baseball player.
“There was a practice in September, so I decided to go out and I was pretty good after a month,” Moss said. “I have always been interested with hockey and lacrosse and I like the contact part of it.”
The lacrosse program is bringing together athletes from four high schools to form one team.
Zabronsky said that’s a good thing.
“I did something like this in Fort Collins, where we had four high schools coming together for one team,” he said.
“The chemistry the kids had ... they come together better in a more unique way than you would having a team at one high school.”