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High school lacrosse teams official for Duluth

The Duluth Nighthawks varsity girls lacrosse team poses after a game. The team placed fifth at the lacrosse state tournament this year. The Duluth school district recently voted to add lacrosse as a new spring sport, starting in 2016. (Photo submitted)1 / 3
Laura Larson, 18, cradles the ball against Rocori in a league game earlier this spring. Larson was voted captain at the end of the season and will be one of three captains for the brand-new Denfeld-East high school lacrosse team. (Photo submitted)2 / 3
The Chargers boys lacrosse club in Duluth will remain as a feeder program to the new Denfeld-East high school team. The new high school team will be self-funded for the first four years by a lacrosse booster club.3 / 3

A fast-growing sport, lacrosse has a new face in northern Minnesota. Duluth boasts two clubs that have been around for 15-20 years and have both outgrown their small pool of competitors and are ready to dive into the big leagues.

Next year the Chargers and the Nighthawks, for boys and girls, respectively, will be moving into the Minnesota State High School League as official varsity-level spring sports in the Duluth Public School District.

"With the sport growing in popularity, it should be a good addition to the programs offered by ISD 709," said Denfeld activities director Tom Pearson. "Part of the problem with club lacrosse is that so many of the teams they previously played against have switched over to become high school sports teams. In Duluth this has been in the discussion stages for a couple of years, but the numbers have grown here to the point where they can now start a program."

The Chargers program has 10 teams and is available to third- through 12th-graders. The Nighthawks' program has a varsity and junior varsity squad for girls in seventh through 12th grade.

Before the 6-0 Duluth School Board vote made high school lacrosse in Duluth a reality, the teams were a part of leagues whose numbers were steadily declining because many clubs were moving to the high school level and leaving the club level with dwindling numbers.

The Nighthawks had a meager seven teams to play in their league. The Chargers were in a league, the Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association, that they were outgrowing. They worked hard and won the state title last month, proving they were ready to take on the challenges the high school league will give them.

A booster group will fund the program for the first four years and after that, there is a chance the school district will take up the expense. Although self-funded, it's still a recognized high school sport through the Minnesota State High School League.

"Back around 1990, soccer was started like this," Pearson said. "Booster groups funded the entire program and then a few years later the high school picked up the cost. This isn't the first time a team will be shared between Denfeld and East either. Girls hockey is like that, too."

The transition from a club sport to a high school sport has numerous benefits, but some players are sad to leave their old teams behind. Since the new high school team only includes players from East and Denfeld, many kids from other schools are getting left behind to continue playing at the club level where their numbers will surely be very low.

Anna Lundstrom, 17, like many girls in Duluth, did not grow up playing lacrosse because it wasn't a popular or available option at the time. She joined the team two years ago and says she wouldn't trade the experience she's had. She was voted captain at the end of this year's spring season.

"One of my favorite things about lacrosse is being able to meet people from all different schools and opening up my range of friendships, and that will be the biggest difference and the hardest part of adjusting to being a high school sport," Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom is joined by two other senior captains, Grace Knauss and Laura Larson.

Larson will be returning for her sixth lacrosse season. She grew up watching her older brother Jesse play for the Chargers and she was interested in joining because the sport looked fun and challenging to her. She, too, will miss her former teammates but also thinks the change is a step in the right direction.

"I'm really excited about having more playing time because the club season was very short. Also the number of teams we'll get to play, which I think will really challenge each of us to work harder as players," Larson said. "Both the girls and boys teams will have much more playing time with the high school season being much longer. There will be more time for new players to improve their game."

Many details, including coaches, practice sites and a team name, are still in the works, but players are working hard during the off-season and are gearing up for their inaugural high school seasons.

"The lacrosse community in Duluth is a pretty close-knit family. We all have one thing in common, which is our love for lacrosse and each player and family have come together which has formed this amazing bond that I hope gets greater and greater as the game grows more," said Larson.