Augustana College will join a growing number of Midwestern institutions in offering women's lacrosse as an intercollegiate sport.
The Vikings will field a team for the first time during the 2010-11 school year, creating an 11th women's varsity sport in an athletic program that will now field 22 teams.
"Lacrosse is certainly a sport that seems to be migrating from the East coast in this direction, and with its growth in our region, Augustana College will be ahead of the curve by beginning a program at this time," director of athletics Mike Zapolski said. "I would compare the sport at the present time to where women's soccer was 15-to-20 years ago."
Augustana will be the third member of the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin to offer women's lacrosse. The program at North Central is in its second year and Carthage will compete for the first time next spring.
Roughly 50 Illinois high schools field girls lacrosse teams and many are located in areas where Augustana recruits students, one of the factors that led to the creation of the program.
The Illinois High School Association announced last month that it will host state championships in boys and girls lacrosse beginning next year.
"There will be a natural recruiting base for us, which is important," Zapolski said.
In addition to the programs in the CCIW, Zapolski said Augustana wants to be involved in discussions of the formation of a women's lacrosse conference that would include several other Midwestern colleges, including Fontbonne in Missouri, Concordia in Wisconsin, Adrian and Albion in Michigan, Trine in Indiana and Mt. St. Joseph in Ohio.
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"From a scheduling standpoint, there may be some benefit to that," Zapolski said.
Augustana President Steven Bahls said athletics have been an important part of the college experience at the institution for generations.
"This reflects our commitment to provide our students with an education that speaks to mind, spirit and body in preparing them for lives of leadership and service," Bahls said in a statement.
Women's lacrosse is a spring sport and the Vikings will compete at Ericson Field. The NCAA allows four weeks of practices in the fall, and Zapolski said those primarily will take place on fields adjacent to the Pepsico Recreation Center on the Augustana campus.
Those fields, which will see a significant upgrade, also will be used more frequently in the spring by Augustana's soccer programs for their offseason workouts.