UNLV’s club lacrosse team huddles during a recent practice. Katrina Llapitan / Special to the Las Vegas Sun
Despite a low turnout, high equipment and league fees, the UNLV men’s lacrosse team is staying positive.
“This is our first year as a club D-I program. So we’re pretty much setting the base for everything to come,” said Eric Ruppel, the club’s president . “Next year we plan on going to Florida and hopefully making the playoffs for the first time ever in school history.”
And that will be a steep feat for the team.
Lacrosse isn’t a popular sport on the West Coast, but UNLV’s men’s team is trying to gain recognition.
They finished their season on a high point, beating Long Beach State 13-9 last weekend to finish 5-5 overall and 1-3 in division play.
That’s not bad, considering UNLV’s roster of 18 is half the players of other schools in their division like San Diego State, Arizona and the University of San Diego, who average 35 on the active roster.
Ruppel and others are already starting to plan for next year — a process that starts with recruiting. The Rebels lacked depth at certain positions, especially goalie, and often struggled with endurance late in games when other schools had the manpower to rotate players on and off the field.
“Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing demographics in the West Coast,” said Turner Krueger, who played lacrosse locally at Centennial High and is a current Rebels midfielder. “The more important thing is that UNLV can be a supporting factor and give these kids some place to go after they graduate. The high schools have to give the team recognition so they can actually use campus facilities like any football team and anything else like that.”
UNLV coach Gary Campo, who is a volunteer, is also the coach at Bonanza High, which won the Las Vegas Lacrosse League championship last year. A native of Long Island, N.Y., an area where lacrosse is popular, Campo knows this part of the country has some catching up to do compared to the traditions of the East Coast.
But Campo has seen the Las Vegas area make significant progress.
“When I came into the valley there were 180 kids playing lacrosse,” he said. “Now, we’re up to 1,350 kids. We have 13 middle schools, 11 high schools and girls are playing.”
Some believe the sport that continues to grow in Las Vegas can keep up with the institutions in the East.
Krueger says though the East may have the older universities, the older programs and long-standing traditions, the West has the athletes.
“East coast lacrosse seems to be the designated place for it because it’s been a long founded tradition. They have programs lasting out there more than a hundred years now,” he said. “The athleticism in the West coast cannot be denied. It’s actually started to become a huge factor.”
Since Rebels lacrosse is only a club sport, the university gives the team $500 a year for expenses, which doesn’t come close to covering expenses. Each team member has to pay $1,000 to play and the team gets some funding from private donations, Ruppel said.
“A player can spend about $100 per piece of equipment with the exception of the helmet. The helmet is $200. Average gloves are a $100. Nice gloves are $150. Arm pads about $50 or $60 and shoulder pads, well mine are cheap like 40 bucks, but other players can spend up to $150,” Krueger said.
Campo remembers his days in college and how the cost of the equipment made him be a little protective of it.
“It’s an expensive sport! You have to take care of it,” he said. “In college we used to sleep with our sticks. They were expensive back then, too.”
Despite the expenses and with the growing popularity, UNLV expects to field a full, 30-man roster next season according to Campo.
“Next year will be the best team UNLV has even fielded. We’re going to be very competitive and were going to be very young. So as long as we can continue to build the program, were going to be a program to be reckoned with in the future.”
Campbell is a UNLV undergraduate in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.