By Stephanie Brady
When a trio of women’s lacrosse players found themselves without a team of their own at the County College of Morris, they decided to take up their sticks and play with the men.
Khelsae Andican, Sarah Majerscak and Carli Jo Vieldhouse have joined the CCM lacrosse team, effectively converting the sport for male athletes at CCM to a co-ed one.
During the fall 2014 off-season, they practiced with the boys and Coach Todd Cieri.
“Once you have been at a few practices you feel special to the team,” Vieldhouse said.“You feel like you’re a part of the boys. It’s very difficult, but very rewarding and simple at the same time.”
Cieri said he doesn’t think gender matters in a sport. While his mother was growing up, she was a trailblazer on her basketball team, and his sister ended up playing for a boy’s lacrosse team while she was in middle school. From these personal experiences, he said gender is irrelevant to him.
“I’ve made it very clear to the team that it’s totally cool,” Cieri said. “I’m down with it and they have to be down with it or else they’re not going to be on the team.”
Still, even though gender isn’t an issue with the team, the female athletes have been facing their own challenges playing with all male athletes.
“Some challenges I’ve faced during the practices would be keeping up with the momentum of the game and basically just learning how the boys play and keeping up with their pace,” Vieldhouse said.
Lacrosse is a physically demanding sport. Specifically, men’s lacrosse has different contact rules that the women have to adjust to. Under certain circumstances, men are allowed to hit the opposing players.
Additionally, during the spring semester, with everyday practices, players are expected to participate in 5-mile runs and perform pushups until they can’t do them anymore.
“They still need to be more acclimated to some of the physicality of the game, but there’s definitely an awareness of what’s going on out there,” Cieri said. “Everybody out there’s like ‘Whoah, girls are playing with the guys,’ but they’re better than some of the guys are.”
The men have faced some challenges as well with coping to the new female players. They immediately needed to decipher what is acceptable or not on the field with them. At first, Cieri said, it was difficult for them. For example, if a male player didn’t check a female player as hard, the other boys challenged him to go harder. If he then went too hard, they questioned why he was being so rough. As time went on, they have realized that the women can be major contributors to their team.
“I do feel like an equal, and that’s how I want to be treated,” Majerscak said. “Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t be as tough as a guy can be. It’s part of the game. Boy’s lacrosse is more physical than girls. I am playing their sport, so I assume they will hit me and not care.”
The difficulties that some players have had with coping hasn’t stopped any members of the team from being supportive and encouraging toward the female athletes. In fact, Cieri said the women sometimes get cheered on far more than the men do when they perform correctly.
“They are all very supportive; they cheer us on just like the other teammates when we make a good play or move, and we cheer them on the same way,” said Majerscak, a hospitality major. “They also help us out when we need improvement on moves and plays.”
Luckily, for the lacrosse team, there are no cuts. The female athletes have been official members of the team and will continue to be as long as they uphold the same responsibilities as every other player including at-tending practices and maintaining a proper grade point average.
“It gives them an opportunity to play a sport they truly enjoy,” said Derek Zacatenco, exercise science major and lacrosse player. “It just shows the confidence they have to come out and work hard with the boys.”
Cieri has worked to make practices and study halls an environment that everyone feels comfortable in and is treated with respect. Most importantly, everyone is treated as an equal player on the team.
“The message I am trying to send is that a girl can do anything a boy can do,” Majerscak said. “It might be difficult, frustrating, and awkward, but if you love it, it’s worth it.”