There is no longer a great divide separating lacrosse powers from wannabes.
For decades, the sport was dominated by Westchester teams well north of Interstate 287 with deep roots. Yorktown, John Jay, Lakeland/Panas and Mahopac habitually won Section 1 titles.
The best competition was only a short bus ride away.
Sure, every once in a while a team from outside the neighborhood put together a memorable season, but long-term success was elusive.
The landscape is changing rapidly.
“When you drive around town now, everybody has a lacrosse cage in the yard,” said Bronxville coach Tim Horgan, whose team has ranked among the best for the last six years. “You see kids walking up the street to get candy at CVS with lacrosse sticks in their hands.”
And why is that so important?
In the last five years, the Broncos have won four Class C titles along with a historic state championship in 2014.
“Bronxville is a lacrosse town,” Horgan added. “The girls have a great program now, too.”
Mamaroneck and Scarsdale were rivals of Yorktown way back when, but those programs slipped over time. The Tigers turned a corner four years ago and have celebrated three Class A championships.
In the CHSAA, a collection of players largely from central and lower Westchester has made Iona Prep a perennial winner.
So what happened?
“It’s the growth of the game,” Mamaroneck coach Jeff Barnard said. “It’s bringing parity and we’re seeing it everywhere.”
A number of programs outside of northern Westchester are on the verge.
Pleasantville won a Class C title last spring. Byram Hills and Pelham are producing talent and vying for attention.
“There is more enthusiasm for the sport and more exposure,” Yorktown coach Dave Marr said. “Kids are getting out and playing more. In the past, they came out and played for a few months in the spring and put the stick away when they went and played football or basketball. Now it’s more of a focus. The kids are training, going to camps. It’s huge.”
Rye got this run started in 2005, winning five consecutive sectional championships.
There is no quick turnaround. It starts at the youth level, usually with a group of athletic friends who stay together into high school. Garnets coaches Brian and Scott Dooley cultivated that interest and continue to preside over a team that competes at the highest level.
For the record, they learned the game in Yorktown.
“We just promoted the concept of team,” Brian Dooley said. “We found the right spots for guys instead of relying on one or two standouts. The football program has always been successful and we had good athletes. The youth program really helped us and over time we kind of changed the culture in town.”
Rye is always going to be a football school, but the Garnets can draw a crowd at Nugent Field in the spring, too.
It can help to produce a superstar, too. Jack Near, who starred at Notre Dame, and Charlie McCormick, who had an impressive career at Georgetown, are credited with making it cool to play lacrosse in Bronxville.
“You need players that younger kids in town want to be like,” Horgan said. “They are great young men who spent a lot of time helping at the youth level.”
Peter Conley, who is at Georgetown and on the Tewaaraton Watch List, got Mamaroneck on the fast track.
“We’re kind of the anomaly here,” Barnard said. “We had lost eight games in a row in 2012 when Peter came back from an injury. He’s the kind of kid who just wins championships. We needed a special kid to lead us and he made the program better.”
It’s not like teams up north have slipped.
“Some of those teams, like Yorktown, are still deeper than we are,” Dooley said. “You can go in with a good team, with a good game plan and have a hard time competing. They can run you into the ground in a 48-minute game because they have so much talent.
“I grew up in that system. There are so many kids involved, they are forced to drive for everything. So many kids go on to play in college and that’s a motivating factor, too.”
The level of envy, though, has declined.
“Yorktown is a special place,” Barnard said. “There is a heritage up there, but there are going to be more schools who at a given time will be able to compete.”