North America’s oldest team sport is getting a new start in Richmond Hill.
After starting the season with three losses to more-established programs, the Richmond Hill girls’ club program — which is in its inaugural season — picked up its first win in February by downing Beaufort’s varsity team 12-7.
That’s a big victory for a team that wasn’t even a team until last fall, when sophomore Jennifer Thorpe and freshman Mackenzie Ross — both of whom played lacrosse at Savannah Christian — asked Mackenzie’s father, former interim SCPS coach Mike Ross, to form a team in Richmond Hill.
He put the ball back in their court, so to speak.
“I told them they needed to create a flier and organize an interest meeting at the high school, this being after they met with the athletic director for permission,” said Ross, a certified U.S. Lacrosse women’s coach and official and a former player himself. “They worked hard and attracted over
70 boys and girls to the first meeting. We have 30 girls and would have had 20 boys playing this year. However, we were unable to identify a boys’ coach in time for the season.”
The squad isn’t yet considered a full-fledged club program at Richmond Hill High School and competes under the auspices of the Richmond Hill YMCA. While Ross plans to try to launch the boys’ program next spring, the girls’ program is working to learn and grow a sport played by Native Americans centuries ago that has been described as a combination of everything from soccer to basketball to hockey and football, according to various Internet resources.
While the game Native Americans played was so physical that encylcope
dia.brittanica.com said the Cherokees considered it a “little brother of war,” the girls’ game Richmond Hill plays is non-contact and built more on finesse, Ross said.
Essentially, lacrosse is a team sport in which players on opposing teams use long-handled sticks with a mesh end to control a small rubber ball and shoot it into the opponent’s goal. There are four different types of lacrosse, Ross said, and while it has long been popular in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the sport is growing so fast now nationally that supply can’t keep up with demand.
“(S)chools and universities cannot keep up with the demand making it difficult to find officials and coaches in the general areas,” he said in an email. “There is a tremendous amount of scholarship money out there today for kids through (Division I through III) schools for this sport, as they are looking for anyone that has played.”
One of the players on Richmond Hill’s new club team already has signed to play the sport at the collegiate level. Senior Anna Govelitz, who actually attends St. Vincent’s Academy, has already signed with Ohio Northern. Ross believes she’s the first from the Savannah area to sign with a school.
Govelitz is one of the team’s three captains, along with Thorpe and Mackenzie Ross. They’re also practically assistant coaches, coach Ross said, along with parents Bill Bloom and Chris Thorpe.
Ross said the girls’ program’s short-term goal is for those in it to have fun and learn the game.
“All we’re trying to do this year is play and learn,” he said. “Score is not even a consideration this year. As I told the girls on day one, we do not care what any score is, we want to learn, have fun and be safe. I don’t want any girls getting hurt early on as that will destroy their image of the game, which is built on very heavy traditions.”
But it’s also a team sport, and that carries its own set of positives.
“Right now, in my eyes, I think we have a tremendous squad of girls that have so much enthusiasm for the game, it is hard to tell what games they have lost and what games they have won They are so happy to just be together and on the field playing that that is all they are interested in right now,” Ross said.
Support from the YMCA has also been instrumental, he added, noting that the team wouldn’t have had a place to play without the Y. But that could be changing as the Coastal Empire discovers — or rediscovers — a game that began before Columbus found his way to the shores of this continent.
There are clinics conducted by lacrosse groups such as LowLax Savannah and a new lacrosse store in downtown Savannah, and Ross said Richmond Hill could take a small team to tournaments this year and send players to summer camps.
Next year, Ross hopes to see Richmond Hill lacrosse become a full-fledged club program at RHHS. There’s talk of transitioning the sport into Georgia High School Association-sanctioned competition before it’s all said and done.
“I don’t see that happening for a few years, but in my eyes the sooner we are under the umbrella of the high school with an established community feeder program (in grades K-8) through the YMCA, we will be in a tremendous position for growth,” Ross said. “I think that Richmond Hill is a premier town for this sport, and the support from community and parents has been absolutely overwhelming.”
Here are the confirmed games on the rest of the team’s schedule:
• March 12, at Pinewood Prep, 2 p.m.
• March 15, at Savannah Christian, 4:45 p.m.
• April 2, at Pinewood Prep, time TBA
• April 5, vs. Savannah Christian at RH, 4:45 p.m.