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Girls lacrosse exploding in Issaquah, Sammamish | Community sports feature
When Jordan Hepperle decided she wanted to try lacrosse five years ago, she ran into a small problem.
Other hotbeds – Mercer Island and Bellevue – had been active in the sport for some time, but so few girls played the game on the youth level in Issaquah that when Hepperle went to sign up for a team, she realized she would have to adjust her expectations.
"There were maybe three girls there," Jordan said. "We were just put on a team."
Without the numbers to field a girls team let alone a full program at that time, Hepperle was placed on an existing boys team and was introduced to the far more physical game played on the boys side.
"I didn't even know there was a different thing for girls," Jordan said. "It didn't really matter because I knew a lot of the kids on the team and we were already friends."
Jordan has continued playing, joining off-season teams for tournaments and continuing to grow along with the sport, which has experienced a massive expansion in the area. Just four years after Jordan was forced to play with the boys for lack of a team, her 11 year-old sister, Julia, joined a girls youth program that has six teams for girls in grades three through eight.
Watching the youth and high school programs grow has been especially exciting for the Hepperle family, which includes the sisters and their mother, Jenny, who doubles as Issaquah Youth Lacrosse girls program director.
"It's been really cool," Jordan said of the game's expansion in the area. "Some of the younger girls have only been playing two years less than the high schoolers, but they already know so much about the game."
Throughout Washington, there are 34 girls high school lacrosse programs from Tacoma to Mulilteo.
On the Eastside, 10 programs, broken down by school district (or school in the case of private schools like Eastside Catholic and Forest Ridge) cover Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Sammamish, Kirkland and Mercer Island. In 2012, Bellarmine Prep, Highline, Gig Harbor and Graham-Kapowsin added programs as well.
The Issaquah School District's high school program (which also includes those within the Snoqualmie Valley School District boundaries) has nearly tripled in size since it was formed in 2008 and will field varsity and JV squads this season with coaches Justin Waagbo and Penny Moss.
Both grew up in the birthplace of the modern game on the East Coast and since relocating to the Pacific Northwest have continued to grow the game in the Issaquah area.
"It just keeps getting better," Moss said of the participation and performance level of the program. "Kids are able to play as young as second and third grade. I've coached my ninth graders this year since they were in fifth grade."
That is a significant change for a program that won only a handful of games during its inaugural season, primarily with first-time players.
While there are only a pair of newcomers to the program this season, Moss said many girls have been drawn to the sport in recent years as a way to get out of a club soccer scene that is increasingly intense and demanding.
"Soccer is so huge and there are so many levels and it's just so competitive," Moss said. "I think some kids are burnt out on it and are looking for something different. It's just something new."
But with the game's growth on the youth level, it may very well be the norm for the next generation of girls around the Eastside.
Five Eastside programs including the Issaquah and Lake Washington school districts and Eastside Catholic School operate at the youth level with teams including fifth thru eighth graders.
Eastside Catholic Athletic Director Scott Garvis was one of the driving forces behind getting lacrosse sanctioned by the state high school athletic association in Minnesota and said he has seen a similar growth pattern in Washington.
At Eastside, nearly 90 percent of those playing lacrosse in the boys and girls programs were students who previously did not play a spring sport.
“The more kids we can get connected to the school, the better atmosphere we have,” Garvis said. “Lacrosse is a huge addition to the spring program because you could be bringing up to 80 new kids out for sports between the boys and girls.
Contact Josh Suman at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 425-453-5045.