Welcome to the big leagues, Rock Canyon.
In 2017, the Jaguars are taking a big leap in Colorado girls lacrosse. For the last two years, they have competed in the Continental League as a junior varsity team. But when play begins on Thursday, they'll be taking the field at the varsity level.
Led by coach Kylie Smith, Rock Canyon is embracing the challenges that come with being a first-year varsity program. She's doing it under the very simple principle that a seed can't grow into something until it gets planted.
"We have a unique situation," Smith said. "We have about 80 percent of our team that was on our JV team last year, but about 20 percent of them played varsity for ThunderRidge. They're used to how the varsity world is. It might be a challenge for us because we have that 20 percent that is used to what varsity (competition) should be."
The benefit of that situation is that the Jaguars are not being fed to the proverbial wolves. They have experience and they have leadership.
And maybe most importantly, they have an understanding of what it takes to be a successful program. The Grizzlies went 15-2 last season and the girls that will now suit up for Rock Canyon have been able to bring some of that winning culture with them.
"There's a few girls that have taken leadership," junior Lauren Likes said. "We've been able to implement some of the things from ThunderRidge into Rock Canyon."
That's something that Smith is going to rely on a lot this season. After all, this will be her first year as a varsity coach just like it will be the varsity season for many of her players.
She doesn't expect to know everything right away, but she will definitely lean on those players coming in with high-level experience.
"JV is a total different ball game from varsity," Smith said. "I think the biggest learning curve for me is needing to go and scout other teams and know what's going on with them and put that into game plans. With JV, I didn't really prepare or know what the status of the other team was."
She's welcoming of this problem. And it's a problem that's becoming more common.
Rock Canyon is one of four new programs to take the field this year. Conifer, Rocky Mountain and Bear Creek will also field teams for the first time. It's a continuing sign that the sport of lacrosse over is in a constant state of growth.
"It's growing like crazy," Smith said. "Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in Colorado and in the U.S."
It's hard to argue the point with the number of new teams that popped up this year. From a player's standpoint, it just seems like a sport that is easy to grasp on to and in maybe the simplest explanation possible, it's a lot of fun.
"Because boys lacrosse grew so much, I just think girls wanted to play," Likes said. "They found their way into it and it's such a fun and fast-paced game. It's really easy to catch on. We have a girl who started last Monday and she made varsity with just three days of tryouts just because it's so easy to catch on to this game."
And the more girls that catch on will only mean more participation across the board. If that trend continues, Colorado will continue to see more and more girls lacrosse teams sprout throughout the state.
Girls lacrosse preview
- Preseason rankings
- Defending state champion: Colorado Academy
- Regular season begins: March 9
- Postseason begins: May 10
- State championships: May 24, University of Denver
- Returning All-State players: Hope Adams, Sr., Cherry Creek; Sydney Prokupek, Sr., Colorado Academy; Eliza Radochonski, Sr., Cherry Creek; Fair Romero, Sr., Denver East; Bridget Sutter, Sr., Colorado Academy.