It makes absolutely no sense to blame one sport for another’s demise, but we did it.
Conk yourselves in the head for being stupid. (Here are a few seconds to recover.)
Seven years have passed since Fresno State eliminated wrestling and added women’s lacrosse. Title IX reasons or not, the move angered a lot of people in this wrestling hotbed.
Being angry at certain Fresno State administrators for not exercising every last option to save wrestling is one thing. It’s quite another to take out that anger on a group of young women, just for being granted an opportunity to play a sport most of us around here know little to nothing about.
Idiotic as it sounds, some of us are guilty as charged.
There’s no other explanation for why wrestling coaches from a certain local high school would confront Bulldogs lacrosse players on an airplane with shouts of, “You took wrestling away!”
Or for the negative or belittling comments left on the team’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“The wrestling community blames lacrosse for not having wrestling, I’ve heard that a lot,” says Tim Carey, the lacrosse coach at Hoover High.
Nor does it help when some crank in the local newspaper (guess who?) takes a cheap shot at the team’s won-loss record. Or when it’s reported that the football coach is grousing he can’t practice inside Bulldog Stadium “because the lacrosse team is in there.”
(Conked myself twice for good measure.)
Now that Fresno State has firmed up plans to bring back wrestling, it’s time for this garbage to stop.
It’s time to forgive lacrosse.
Jessica Giglio, the Bulldogs’ passionate and likable fourth-year coach, doesn’t agree with the premise. In Giglio’s mind, lacrosse has nothing to be forgiven for — and she’s right. Lacrosse did nothing wrong. We were the ones being stupid.
“It’s tough for me when people say they’re a Bulldog fan but they hate us, and for no reason,” Giglio says. “I feel like we’ve definitely been misjudged by peoples’ opinions that were not based on facts.
“It’s frustrating because these are 20-year-old women, and people are cursing them on social media, saying there shouldn’t even be a lacrosse program. That stuff hurts.”
Fresno State plays its home finale at 2 p.m. Sunday against Cal, and to every lacrosse hater consider this a personal invitation. Admission is free.
What they’ll see is a fast-paced, high-scoring sport that combines the running and spacing of soccer and stick skills of hockey with strategies derived from basketball.
I can say these things because Wednesday I attended my first women’s lacrosse game and came away impressed. Only wish I’d done so sooner.
While women’s lacrosse isn’t as rough as the men’s version — intentionally so — this is no sport for the faint of heart.
Just ask junior defender Ariel Ross, who two years ago suffered a concussion (and a broken nose) when her face got in the way of a shot traveling 60 mph. Women’s lacrosse players wear metal-framed goggles that mainly protect the eyes and temples.
“It happens,” Ross shrugs.
That sort of grit is something wrestling supporters, in particular, should appreciate.
“Lacrosse is a tough sport. There’s no sugar-coating that,” Giglio says.
When Fresno State created a lacrosse program, it did so out of thin air.
Not only did no high school programs exist in the region, but Fresno State didn’t even have a club team. Sue Behme, the program’s first coach, had four months to assemble a roster from open tryouts. For many players, it was their first time playing lacrosse.
Contrast that to the methodical approach Fresno State is taking with wrestling and women’s water polo. The plan is to hire coaches and then give them two years to build a team.
Lacrosse never got that chance. Playing in a tough conference against established programs, the Bulldogs went winless from 2009-11, a stretch of 44 games, before finally winning one during Giglio’s first season in 2012.
Progress under Giglio has been slow but steady. The Bulldogs are 3-9 (1-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), which equals the team record for victories in a season. The team also has set numerous scoring marks.
“It’s hard to see growth when we have to play teams like Stanford and USC, but we’re getting there,” Ross says.
That growth also can be seen on the high school level, locally and statewide. More than 220 California high schools have girls’ lacrosse teams, including all seven in the Fresno Unified School District.
Those seven are the only ones though, and they must travel to the Bay Area, Sacramento and San Diego to play out-of-area competition.
“Lacrosse is the fastest-growing high school sport in the country, especially on the girls’ side,” says Carey, the Hoover coach. “I’m hearing Memorial is planning to add lacrosse in a year or two, and hopefully Madera.”
Supporters would really like to see Clovis Unified adopt lacrosse, which would definitely raise the level of competition. But there are no plans to do so.
“We’re not in a position right now to add any sports, boys or girls,” says Steve France, Clovis Unified’s assistant superintendent of educational services.
One of the main reasons Giglio took the Fresno State job was she wanted to help grow the sport on the West Coast.
Another was Fresno itself. The Long Island native says she “fell in love” with the city from her first visit.
“Coming here, it was incredible to see to see how much love there is for Fresno State,” Giglio says. “Everyone has a Bulldog sticker on their cars. Every single ad has a Bulldog of some sort.
“It was like, ‘Wow! Look at how much this community loves this school.’ When you make a decision to move across the country, you want to feel like you’re supported. You want to feel like there’s a community that might back a sport that isn’t natural to being here. That’s what I imagined.”
C’mon, Fresno. Isn’t it time to show her, and lacrosse, a little love in return?