I can count the number of times that I've played with a lacrosse stick on both hands... I think. Connecticut is no stranger to the game, but when I was young it was popular on a town-by-town basis, and my city has a huge baseball culture. I don't think we ever had organized lacrosse at any level until I was in middle school. I guess I was tangentially aware that lacrosse was a thing that happened, but it wasn't until I had already sent my deposit check to Syracuse that I sat down to watch the sport - and my University - for the first time:
Syracuse vs Virginia 2008 NCAA Semifinals (via Mark Garrett)
I really didn't have any idea what I had just watched, but I knew it was pretty damn awesome, and I was filled with all sorts of irrational "new college that I had spent like two days at a few weeks ago" pride.
Needless to say, I'm not a traditional lacrosse fan. While I root for one of the sport's super powers, I don't yearn for the days where the same five or six teams danced it out in Maryland every Memorial Day. While the back to back national championship teams in 2008 and 2009 were a ton of fun, and I'd love to win the whole damn thing every year, I've grown to appreciate how the sport is spreading throughout the country. Universities all over the place, big and small, are starting teams and are becoming competitive in a hurry. I was thrilled with a school like Loyola getting its turn in the spotlight last season.
That's why I love this 2013 tournament... besides the fact that Syracuse got the top seed and are a favorite to win it. Ohio State, Denver, Penn State, Lehigh, Albany... these aren't your mother's NCAA tournament contenders, but all of them seem to have a shot at this thing. It's wide open, and the nouveau riche have a legitimate seat at the table.
I can't feel bad for a team like Johns Hopkins getting the door slammed on them. Lacrosse needs competitive teams in Denver and Ohio far more than it needs a mediocre Hopkins squad to have a shot at claiming an 842nd national title. As more schools add the sport and become competitive, it adds value to being a great program.
Winning the first eleven national titles was great, but winning number twelve will be an even greater accomplishment because of the ever-growing talent pool and number of worthy opponents. And when we knock off a feisty Cal-Berkeley team to claim our 20th national title in front of a sold-out Metlife Stadium after a grueling 64 team tournament...well that will be big time.