Growth of WILA could benefit Colorado Mesa lacrosse
The five-team Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association might be growing.
Two potential additions were showcased at Walker Field over the weekend when Colorado Mesa and Grand Valley Lacrosse hosted the Division I and Division II Rocky Mountain Club Lacrosse Championships.
Lacrosse has taken off in Grand Junction, first at the high school club level. Fruita Monument and Grand Junction High School, despite no District 51 funding, field boys and girls teams. Colorado Mesa started its men’s and women’s programs two years ago.
One of the problems facing Mesa is the lack of regional competition.
Adams State is currently the only other Colorado team in the Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association, and Mesa has to travel long distances each year for conference games. Dominican University and Notre Dame de Namur are in California, and Lindenwood University is in Missouri.
Westminster’s 17-7 victory over Fort Lewis in Saturday’s Division II championship game showed just how sparse regional competition is for Rocky Mountain teams.
In the Division I game title game, Colorado State upended defending national champion Brigham Young 14-7. Westminster (15-3) and Colorado State (15-2) advance to the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Championships in Greenville, S.C. from May 14-19.
Westminster, an NAIA school, is considering a move similar to Black Hills State, which begins RMAC competition this fall.
The Salt Lake City university is the only NAIA school in the Rocky Mountain region with a lacrosse team, so all of its games are against Division II club teams.
The NAIA doesn’t recognize lacrosse as an official sport. Two dozen NAIA schools have varsity programs, but they compete in club lacrosse because of a lack of programs in close proximity.
All of the NAIA schools except Westminster are from the East Coast or Great Lakes region.
NAIA officials won’t consider making it an official sport until 50 schools have varsity teams, Westminster coach Mason Goodhand said. One potential avenue for Westminster is to join the NCAA.
“We’re much like CMU in that we have full support, financially and otherwise, from our institution,” Goodhand said. “Certainly we are always interested in an opportunity playing at a higher level.
“No disrespect to the club league, but to get into a league like that would be great. We have no control over that, and when there are changes going on at an institution, people like to suggest changes like this.”
Westminster will reconsider its athletic status when its new president takes over in July, he said.
Fort Lewis is considering a move from club to intercollegiate status.
All of the Skyhawks’ sports teams are NCAA-sanctioned and compete in the RMAC. Coach Daniel Riecks said the WILA would be a natural landing spot for Fort Lewis.
The Fort Lewis women’s lacrosse team is part of the WILA. However, the Skyhawks’ men’s team is hesitant because of its history as a club lacrosse team. Fort Lewis has had a men’s lacrosse club team since the early 1980s.
“My understanding of it is that it’s a matter of dollars and cents,” Riecks said. “If we can show that this program will bring more students to the school, then there’s a chance.
“I’m not sure if it’s in the long-term vision of this club. Schools like Mesa and Adams come from a place of not having a program before. We have history, and it’s a hard transition going from a club to a varsity sport.”
However, people in Durango are supportive of making the Skyhawks part of the intercollegiate menu.
“There’s an interest for a varsity program in Durango, but less so in our conference,” Riecks said. “The RMLC (Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference) and MCLA (Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association) are really well-run organizations and we pride ourselves on the competitive level of lacrosse here, but there’s definitely a growing segment of the community that would love to see us go varsity.”