As the ball moves down the field toward the opponent’s goal, the crowd begins to cheer. One section in particular is the loudest.
“Go Columbia” the group yells out.
A small group of students, dressed warmly to shield themselves from gusts of wind, holds up signs. Black magic marker writing on makeshift cardboard posters shows support for friends.
For a Columbia girls’ lacrosse team that has played the majority of its games on the road and struggled to find a permanent home, encouragement from fellow students is a rarity.
Since its inception in 1998, the team has faced several obstacles to fielding a team every year. While Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools have separate boys’ lacrosse teams, only one lacrosse team exists for high school and junior high girls in Columbia.
As a club team, Columbia has faced several challenges. Because there is no affiliation or stability through either high school, there is always a revolving door of team leadership.
Third-year coach Heather Koonse said retaining a coach has been a problem. She, like most of the previous coaches, is a college student. Student coaches tend to graduate and move away from Columbia. Koonse attends Stephens College.
Also, since the team is organized by parents, it is hard to keep volunteers once their children graduate, Koonse said.
Building a following is also hard, but Koonse takes several approaches to get the word out about the team. She’s held clinics, posted flyers around the schools, and placed advertisements in newspapers.
But Koonse said most players join because of friends on the team.
“Usually it’s word-of-mouth,” Koonse said. “The girls tell their friends.”
Co-captain Alyssa Lapan said she and co-captain Lindsay Simpson also play an important role in spreading the word about the team. Lapan attends Hickman and Simpson attends Rock Bridge. They act as contacts between the schools.
While getting girls interested in the sport presents challenges, getting them ready for competition can be more difficult. Many of the girls are new to the sport when they join the team. There is no girls’ youth lacrosse team in Columbia.
“A lot of people in Columbia don’t even know what a lacrosse stick is,” Koonse said.
The first practices of the year were devoted to teaching the fundamentals of lacrosse. Koonse said the beginning can be frustrating but patience with the new players is important.
Though learning a new sport can be difficult, it is an attractive fit for some students.
Holly Grieman, now in her second year, said the chance to play a new sport and not be too far behind was appealing.
“(On) most of the other teams, the girls have been playing for five or six years, so it’s really hard to get in there and be competitive,” Grieman said. “But most of the girls on this team are new, so it gives you a good chance to go in and play a sport and get a lot of playing time.”
Being located in Columbia also presents problems for the team.
With most teams in St. Louis, it is difficult for the Columbia team to stay in the information loop, often having to send parents to meetings in St. Louis just to stay informed on league issues.
Most of their games are also played on the road in St. Louis.
Koonse said the girls enjoy the trips even though playing on the road can be hard.
“We don’t mind getting up early,” Koonse said. “All the girls get up for it.”
But the road has some unique challenges. On one road trip the team forgot its goalie equipment and had to borrow the opposing team’s backup equipment.
Even when the team is fortunate enough to play in Columbia, a field can be hard to come by. The team has played at several different sites. Currently, the team plays at Cosmopolitan Park, which Koonse hopes could become a permanent home.
Because of the road schedule, friends of players rarely get to see the team perform.
In their only two home games, both on April 23, the girls finally got the opportunity to play in front of a friendly crowd.
“It was good for my friends to finally come out and see what we’re actually doing,” Grieman said. “I don’t think most of us have ever had our friends get to see us before.”
Columbia lost to Hazelwood Central 16-8 and Eureka 13-1. The two losses dropped Columbia’s record to 0-4.
Lapan said the team’s goals do not center on winning but on having a good time. Because the St. Louis teams often have junior varsity and varsity teams, the talent pool is much deeper.
“We really have to hold on to having fun,” Lapan said.
Despite its many struggles, the team has found ways to have fun, including dancing to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” during warm-ups.
One of Lapan’s favorite memories is from last year when a game was canceled because of lightning. The team still took to the field running around, laughing and yelling.
“The other team didn’t really like it, but we always really have a good time together,” Lapan said.
The future of the team is unclear. Koonse is set to graduate this year, leaving her status in Columbia uncertain.
If Koonse leaves Columbia, a new cycle will have to begin. But if history is an indicator, the team will find a way to continue.