The events are instructive to the pace and growth of the sport well beyond its East Coast roots. But they are not the only signs.
The four teams that reached the NCAA semifinals 20 years ago were made up of players from nine states; 89 percent of them were from Maryland and New York. This weekend, the four semifinalists — Denver (15-2), Virginia (11-5), Maryland (12-4) and Duke (14-5) — have players from 24 states; 35 percent are from New York and Maryland.
Among the starters on Saturday, when Virginia plays Denver and Maryland faces off against Duke, will be players from California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington state.
“College coaches are showing the highest level of interest in players out West, more than ever before,” said Peter Worstell, a Long Island native who starred for Maryland in the late 1970s and now is head coach at San Ramon Valley High outside Oakland.
Worstell founded the “California Gold” showcase tournament in 2008. It already has become an important stopping off point on the summer recruiting circuit for Division I coaches.
“This didn’t just happen,” he said. “There is a reason I didn’t start California Gold earlier. I didn’t feel there was enough talent. But the level of play has exploded. . . . What is happening out here is very, very real.”
Seniors on Worstell’s San Ramon Valley team will play next year for Navy, North Carolina, Penn State and Syracuse.
The recruiting trend stems from the explosion in the number of young people playing the game. The number of boys’ high school varsity teams has increased 55 percent the last five years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Nearly 325,000 boys 15 and younger were playing the game in 2010, a 9.2 percent increase from 2009, according to U.S. Lacrosse.
Yet, the number of roster spots on men’s Division I programs has been slow to keep pace. The number of schools with men’s teams declined to 54 in the mid-2000s after Michigan State and Boston College dropped the sport, largely over compliance with Title IX, which requires that colleges and universities have equal opportunities and scholarships for men’s and women’s athletes. Butler, which has since made a name for itself as a national basketball power, dropped lacrosse in January 2007.
The number of men’s programs, however, has recently begun to increase again. Jacksonville added men’s and women’s teams for the 2010 season; it is the first men’s Division I program in Florida.