Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NAIA Lacrosse Drives Sports' Varsity Expansion South and West


The University of St. Mary successfully launched its NAIA program in 2015 (photo / gospires.com)
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is not as well known among lacrosse players in the Chesapeake region as the larger National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), partially because it lacks representation by a local college program. The NAIA dates back to 1937 and spans most of the country except for the Northeast where, along with Maryland, much of lacrosse's historical power base has been located.

With Denver's national championship victory on Monday, the Pioneers punctuated the permanence of lacrosse beyond its long-time geographic home in the East. Maryland, despite its Terps falling in the final to Denver, is effectively doing the same. A host of coaches and former players with Free State connections are contributing to the emergence of lacrosse as a fully-funded scholarship sport within the NAIA.

On July 27, the NAIA will continue its commitment to its fastest-growing sport by holding a showcase for high school lacrosse players interested in competing at the college level. The showcase will be held in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is one of nine that the NAIA will host for a cross-section of its sports, including its rapidly growing women's lacrosse program.

The NAIA competes in 17 sports, stages 23 national championships, includes 260 teams, and will award $500 million in athletic scholarships this year. According to scholarshipstats.com, the average men's lacrosse award exceeded the NCAA's Division II by roughly $1,100 annually per recipient.

It will hold its initial national invitational tournament in 2016 and is on pace for a full national championship tournament by 2018.

The schools on hand at the lacrosse showcase include Kentucky's Asbury University. Drawing from an enrollment of just over 1,200 students, they're led by head coach Josh Stewart. Stewart is a Taneytown, Maryland native and played lacrosse at Carroll County's Francis Scott Key High School before heading north to play for Messiah College. He later was an assistant coach for two years for the Falcons.
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Clarke University is based in Dubuque, Iowa and led by head coach Kasey Burst a former defenseman for Division I Mt. St. Mary's in Maryland. The spring of 2016 will be the inaugural season of play for the Crusaders.

"I'm very excited that the NAIA has taken the initiative to add lacrosse to its list of showcases. After speaking with other coaches, I understand that the NAIA showcases tend to yield a lot of talented high school athletes. Personally, I think it's great for the growth of our sport." said Burst.

Lindenwood University-Belleville is located in Illinois and has a student body of just under 2,000. Dan Mertzlufft recently completed his fourth season as the Lynx head coach and Lindenwood-Belleville is rapidly solidifying its reputation as an NAIA/MCLA presence.

Montreat College will be in attendance from Montreat, North Carolina. It's one of the closest colleges to the Chesapeake area participating in the showcase. They are led by head coach Will McMinn and recently announced the construction of a new, multi-sport facility that will be home to the Cavaliers' lacrosse team. Montreat successfully launched its program this year. McMinn previously started the Concordia University Irvine Eagles' lacrosse program in California and rapidly shaped them into an MCLA national power.

Additional NAIA schools represented include:
  • St. Ambrose University of Davenport, Iowa has a student body of over 3,400 and will be represented by head coach Brad Keel at the showcase. The Bees launched their program in 2014 and have two seasons under their belt.
  • University of the Cumberlands from Williamsburg, Kentucky has a student body of roughly 1,760. The program's first head coach is Pete Campbell, a former coach at Maryland's Archbishop Spalding. His departure to the college ranks merited coverage in the Baltimore Sun's Varsity Letters. Spalding competes in what many consider the most competitive high school conference in the country, the MIAA-A. The Patriots are poised to launch in 2016. 

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