U.S. Lacrosse spotlight on Triangle

BY WILLIAM E. LAWS - Staff Writer

Signs of lacrosse's growing popularity in the state have sprouted the past 10 years.

The latest signal of its emergence can be spotted this weekend in North Raleigh, where about 60 boys and girls teams from all over the country will participate in a Southeast Region championship tournament organized by U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body.

More than 2,000 players, coaches and families are expected to attend the two-day U.S. Lacrosse Lax Fest at the WRAL Soccer Center. The tournament marks the first major U.S. Lacrosse event to be held in the Triangle.

"We try to target areas where lacrosse is really emerging as a sport," said Beth Porreca, the director of special events for U.S. Lacrosse. "Particularly in North Carolina and South Carolina, lacrosse has really been growing at the youth level."

Area coaches also recognize that development and are looking forward to taking advantage of the increased local exposure for the sport.

"It'sgreat for U.S. Lacrosse to recognize us as a growth area," said John Hayden, the men's lacrosse coach at Apex High. "Hopefully, [the regional] becomes a marquee event. ... The growth of lacrosse here has been phenomenal."

The regional competition is one of three taking place across the country. Arlington, Texas, hosted the Central Region championship this past weekend, and the West Region championship took place last month in Phoenix.

Even though referred to as the Southeast Region championship, this weekend's festivities include teams from California and New York.

The top four finishers in each championship qualify for the U15 National Championship at ESPN's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., as part of ESPN's RISE Games.

This weekend's activities include a competition, or Lax Fest, for the younger U11 and U13 divisions as well, but they are not playing to qualify for a national championship.

"It's an incredible opportunity to put North Carolina on the map for lacrosse in a younger age group," said Kristy Boyles, coach of a U15 North Carolina girls team competing this weekend. "Our sights are set on placing first."

The national girls event will take place July 20-22, and the boys play July 22-24.

"The [CASL soccer] complex and Raleigh in general have a very welcoming feel," Porreca said. "We feel right at home here."