Yesterday, in Springfield, Va., the inaugural weekend of Next Collegiate Lacrosse’s women’s league began with six historically black colleges and universities taking part.

It was a day permeated with firsts. And it wasn’t just the act of starting the league, which has given a number of the players and schools an outlet of play which had been closed off from them thanks to decades of discrimination in athletics and academia.

For the players from Bowie State, Morgan State, Coppin State, Norfolk State, Hampton, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, the firsts came thick and fast.

First, you’ll notice the helmets. And these aren’t the headgear that has been mandated in Florida high schools or the ones which are occasionally used by college players who have suffered head injuries in the past. These helmets are full-faced cage masks. Players were also outfitted with gloves and shoulder/chest protectors. The sticks used in this league are not the shallow sticks found in the outdoor women’s game, but are the deep-pocketed men’s sticks.

The game started not with a center draw, but with one midfielder from each team bending over the center spot and taking a faceoff. The women in NCL don’t have empty-crosse calls, midfield green cards, and shooting space. It’s a pretty unique setup in North America.

The women, in NCL, are playing the same rules as the men have played in the last two seasons — Olympic Sixes, a 30-second possession clock, and four quarters.

Too, the women use the same rule as in the men’s league when it comes to shots at goal: there is no backing up the ball with a race to the endline. Instead, the ball is awarded to the team that did not touch the ball last when it goes out of bounds. If the shot misses the cage, for example, the defense gets the ball. If a shot is blocked out of bounds by the defense or goalie, the offense retains possession.

In watching some action yesterday, these rules modifications are taking some getting used to. I watched a couple of instances yesterday when one team or the other brought the ball into the attack area very slowly — so that the offense sometimes had as few as eight seconds to maneuver the ball for a shot on goal.

Also, sometimes you saw a player up top get dispossessed and the opposing team ran the ball up the pitch at speed with nobody back. These are the kinds of things that would drive you crazy if you were a coach, but you have to give the players some grace and room to improve with some training.

Morgan State, one of the teams on show yesterday, was impressive with how they limited mistakes. There has been a club team at the Northeast Baltimore school for several years, and the NCL could be an avenue for a varsity women’s team one day.

But there was one thing I saw yesterday that I had not seen before in any game of lacrosse — men’s or women’s, field or box, recreational, varsity, or international. One of the teams had some players go down with injuries and with what looked like leg cramps. I found myself counting helmets looking to see how many healthy players the team had. The last four minutes of the game, the team played short because there was literally no healthy person on the bench.

Hopefully, this will result in more people from that school coming out for the team in ensuing weeks.


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