The game of lacrosse can be traced back to 1100 A.D. in what is now Canada. It is believed that Native Americans played the game with essentially a giant wooden spoon and a ball made out of deerskin or some other animal skin sewn together. Goals were located anywhere from hundreds of yards to even miles away from each other and hundreds of men from two opposing villages made up the teams.
The Six Nations of the Iroquois made up the villages that faced each other. Games were played for either religious purposes or settling disputes between villages in order to keep the nations together.
A lot has changed since those times, but many similarities have taken the place of the past. Sticks have been modernized but still serve the same purpose.
Teams have shrunk to 10 people instead of an entire village of men, but the game still holds the same goal of scoring and beating the other team. The field is roughly the size of a football field now and instead of nations, conferences have taken their place.
Perhaps, there is still one thing that has not changed. Maybe Native Americans played the game for another reason, beyond religion and settling arguments.
It possibly was simply for the love of the game.
Fast forward 917 years and that is the exact reason the Appalachian State men’s club lacrosse team continues to play the game.
Junior midfielder Jack Rich said that despite the difficulties of not being a varsity sport on campus, the love of the game drives his motivation.
“If you ask most athletes, they play to win games and championships,” Rich said. “I fully believe that the inner drive to play club lacrosse comes from the passion to win and also just the love of lacrosse.”
Lacrosse at Appalachian State was founded in 1973 as a club sport. In order to qualify as a NCAA sponsored sport, funding must be relatively equal for women’s and men’s sports. Because of this, Appalachian State men’s lacrosse is part of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, specifically the Division II Southeastern Lacrosse Conference.
The association was created to give college athletes the opportunity to be competitive against other schools with the student-athletes’ focuses still centering around their education.
The association is different. The game is the same.
For Rich, the game means leading the team in total points, goals and assists, throughout his time at Appalachian State. During his freshman year, Rich took charge with 38 points, scoring 29 goals and nine assists. Last season, Rich decided to up his own ante with 44 points coming from 31 goals and 13 assists.
“I think I performed fairly well,” Rich said. “I was the grunt work player. I did a lot of the clearing, a lot of midfielder defense and I had to take a lot of hits along the way, but there is definitely room for improvement in my game.”
Along with being an offensive threat for the Mountaineers, Rich is also the club president. Leadership off the field, in Rich’s eyes, does, in fact, correlate with results on the field.
“I know a lot of the freshmen look to me and the other officers for how to act and I want to set a good example,” Rich said.
Alongside Rich are officers in senior goalie Mikey Fifield and senior attackman David Hayes.
Averaging over 20 saves per game and a save percentage of just over 70 percent, Fifield earned Under Armour player of the week honors as well as being named one of the two U.S. Lacrosse MCLA players of the month for February last season.
That save percentage was the highest save percentage in the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference and fifth highest in the MCLA among starting goalkeepers.
“I felt that I had a great season,” Fifield said. “I’m overwhelmed with excitement for the regular season to come around. I think we have a chance to improve on our record setting season last year and really put App State lacrosse on the map.”
In 2015, the Mountaineers won only one game and finished with a record of 1-6 overall. Since then and with the emergence of Rich, Fifield and Hayes, men’s lacrosse has only improved.
A year later in 2016, the Mountaineers went 7-3 and reached the SELC Division II semi-finals for the first time falling to Kennesaw State.
Last season, the Black and Gold finished at 7-1 and managed a top-25 ranking for the first time in App State lacrosse history. Managing a spot in the SELC Division II conference tournament, the Mountaineers fell to the eventual champions No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast University 8-6 in the first round.
“I’m proud of where our guys took us,” Hayes said. “The last playoff game was bitter but, we played together and had a great overall season.”
One major difference in the final game was the roster size between the Mountaineers and the Eagles. Florida Gulf Coast stepped onto the field in Atlanta with 40 players ready to go while App State only had 18 on the roster.
Lack of depth and major fatigue play a substantial factor when teams have to rely on their star players at the end of a game.
Injuries played a major role in the Mountaineers’ struggles last year as well as several players being sidelined due to concussions and other ailments.
This year, the Black and Gold are expanding and fresh new faces are stepping up already for this hungry team. Eager to find their roles already are freshmen Jonathan Winbush and Alex Mudler.
“Last year as a team, we grew drastically. We came together with a sense of brotherhood and had a nearly undefeated season,” Hayes said. “This year, I want to help lead this team to success. I want to help mentor and keep these men wanting more, every practice and every game.”
This lacrosse team may not be NCAA sponsored or funded anywhere near the amount of other teams across the southeast. They may be fatigued and injury-ridden, but there is one thing this team will always have; these Mountaineers will always have each other and the love of the game.
Story by: Noah Gerringer, Sports Reporter
Photos by: Lindsay Vaughn, Senior Staff Photographer