JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the fastest-growing high school sports in the country will be on full display this week.
Lacrosse takes center stage at Episcopal beginning Thursday evening with the first two of eight games in the High School 9:12′s Rivalry on the River event. The Creekside girls thumped Bolles 22-1, and the Nease boys beat St. Augustine 17-4 in the openers.
The Fleming Island boys beat Bartram Trail 11-9 and the Bolles boys routed Menendez 17-2 on Friday night.
A full slate of four games happen Saturday. All eight games were streamed on News4Jax.com. The four games Saturday were televised live on CW17 and broadcast on 1010XL radio.
High School 9:12 has previously been behind baseball, basketball and football events that have grown year over year with both a TV and radio element behind it. The Rivalry on the River is the first venture into lacrosse, which has been steadily growing in the state.
Ponte Vedra coach Tom West, whose Sharks team won the 2019 state championship and finished ranked No. 3 in the nation, said the growth of the sport has been fascinating to be a part of. Fifteen years ago, there were fewer than four dozen teams in the state that were fielding high school teams in Florida.
Now, the sport continues to boom, as evidenced by a three-day event punctuated by TV and radio coverage.
“I would say mission accomplished. You know, that’s kind of what we started out for a long time ago,” West said of the sport becoming more visible locally.
“There’s some guys that put a lot of time into growing lacrosse across around here. And, you know, those are the guys that are kind of bearing the fruits of it this weekend, that put all that time in for 20 years.”
The girls programs will be well-represented, too, which is a first for the High School 9:12 vehicle.
Six girls teams — Bartram Trail, Bolles, Creekside, Episcopal, Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine — are in the inaugural event.
Ponte Vedra and Bartram remain the two measuring sticks for area programs, although Creekside is a rising program, too. The Sharks finished as state runner-up twice (2014-15). The Bartram Trail girls had a runner-up finish in 2013 and the lone girls state championship by an area team in 2016.
The area has seen big lacrosse action before, notably with the Moe’s Classic, which Jacksonville University began playing host to in 2011. That event drew major college programs to town, often had significant national TV presence. High school games were added to that schedule eventually, giving local programs a big stage to play on.
“You’re right, this is all high school and all North Florida high school, whereas Moe’s was all teams from all around the state. So, it’s great to show what we have in North Florida and how far lacrosse has come and how much effort all these coaches are putting into growing the game around here.”
Bartram coach Megan Jackowiak said the opportunity for her girls team to have a chance to face a major rival is big. It’s always big when the Bears and Sharks face off. The visibility element of TV and radio amplify a big matchup and make it bigger. Bartram is 12-1 and Ponte Vedra is 7-2. Their losses have been to out of area powerhouses, Vero Beach and Delray Beach American Heritage.
“It’s really exciting. We’re really excited any game when we play PV, it’s a great rivalry. I’m really good friends with Coach Jen [Conway]. We always love playing PV and being on that platform [TV, radio, web] is really nice. It’s really nice to see the sport being recognized like this and giving the kids an opportunity to play on TV.”
High school lacrosse remains a sport in growth.
From 2010-19, the National Federation of High School Associations reported sizable increases in lacrosse participation, including jumps of more than 20% in the number of boys and girls teams.
In the six-year period from 2013-18, the NFHS reported a substantial increase in high school lacrosse teams across the country. Girls lacrosse teams grew by 25.7% (up from 2,212 to 2,781 teams) and boys teams saw a 21.4% jump (2,436 to 2,957).
In Florida, the state first recognized lacrosse as a sport in 2004. It was largely a club sport before that, with only a handful of local schools electing to field teams. In 2007, there were just 148 teams in Florida. In the FHSAA’s most recent sports participation numbers, the state has 440 teams competing.
Those lacrosse numbers mean more athletes in Florida are competing in that sport than bowling, competitive cheerleading, golf, tennis, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling. It ranks just behind swimming (14,895).
Rivalry on the River schedule
Note: All Thursday/Friday games streaming on News4Jax.com and the app; Saturday games will be televised on CW17 and broadcast on 1010XL.
Thursday, March 25
Creekside 22, Bolles 1, (girls)
Nease 16, St. Augustine 4 (boys)
Friday, March 26
Bolles 17, Menendez 2 (boys)
Fleming Island 11, Bartram Trail 9 (boys)
Saturday, March 27
Ponte Vedra 14, Bartram Trail 13, OT (girls)
Episcopal 17, St. Augustine 2 (girls)
Episcopal 12, Providence 7
Ponte Vedra 9, Creekside 8