Under-Funded Lacrosse Club Perserveres

At 1 a.m., the men's Columbia Lacrosse Club is usually walking out of Dodge, just finishing a rigorous practice that began at 11 p.m.

Under-funded and without full-time assistant coaches, the club team is trying to compete at a higher level within its constrictions so it can eventually break out of them.

Fighting a serious lack of funds has not been easy, but the team has managed to beat some of the odds, reaching a top 25 national ranking in their division.

The team, to say the least, has not been allotted the best gym time. The club has an odd practice schedule largely because of the danger that flying lacrosse balls on South Lawn pose to spectators. Baker Field will be an option when the weather is warmer, but until then, poor practice times are one of many inconveniences that the lacrosse team must face.

Many of the players have come from competitive high school programs and have found adjusting to a club team difficult. Players must find time for conditioning, provide their own equipment, and pay club fees.

Despite these demands, junior captain Kirk Hourdajian said, "I like the club atmosphere. It's more relaxed. If we were given the chance to be a varsity team, I wouldn't automatically say yes [to playing]. I'd have to think about it."

Columbia is the only Ivy League institution that does not have a men's varsity lacrosse team. Coach Michael Barton said that, in general, students can be just as passionate about playing sports as they are about academics, and that it is detrimental for Columbia to have his players "given an inferior environment due to lack of resources."

The club has greatly improved in the past three seasons under Barton. Last fall, the team joined the National Collegiate Lacrosse League (NCLL), in which they received an initial ranking of 87th.

The NCLL consists of about 100 teams of varied skill levels from across the United States. The Columbia squad lost in the quarterfinals to Navy in last April's tournament.

In order to improve funding, the club would like to become a varsity sport, and improving the quality of play may help the club reach that goal.

This season looks promising for the lacrosse club. The roster now includes 25 to 28 undergraduate students, with nine to 10 first-year joining this year.

Barton said that the new recruits are "all good, all very enthusiastic hard workers; all have great team spirit and love the game."

The team is training hard to win the NCLL national title this season and is planning to enter the more competitive United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse League (USILA) next year as a stepping-stone to the varsity level. The USILA is the most competitive league for men's college lacrosse except for the NCAA tournament.

Co-captain Alok Verma said that the true sign of the team's strength this season is its depth. "[The team] works well together; there is no clear player that stands out."

Judging by the group with lacrosse sticks slung over their shoulders eagerly piling into the gym at 11 p.m., the inconveniences of being a club sport are just small obstacles.

"If you're a fish, you can only get as big as your tank," Barton said, and the men's lacrosse club is ready to jump into a bigger tank.

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