Socastee boys lacrosse coach Matt Fox now has a little more company on the island.
While the Braves and Waccamaw already had South Carolina High School League-sanctioned lacrosse programs, Carolina Forest, Myrtle Beach and St. James are set to join the scene this week.
The schools were approved by Horry County Schools in August, giving area lacrosse a boost.
“It’s good because now we’re a dominant region,” said Fox, whose team in the past had to travel long distances for nearly all of its away matches. “Looking back to where my guys were four years ago, we were the only team. We joked in our state meetings that we were on an island and it’s just us.”
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The new squads haven’t had any trouble filling out rosters. In fact, some teams have had enough kids to start junior varsity programs.
“We had about 25 or 30 kids come and try out and recently had about five or six wrestlers, so they got a chance to try out,” Myrtle Beach boys lacrosse coach Jim O’Neil said. “It’s been very positive.”
Carolina Forest has had a lacrosse program for three years, but this is the first time the matches will officially count.
“We’re extremely excited,” Panthers boys coach Adam Gross said. “Some of the kids have been playing for two years and some have been playing even longer because they were over at Socastee.”
But some kids haven’t played at all.
With many area players new to the sport, there has certainly been a learning curve.
“We’re still learning the game. It’s not the easiest game to learn with catching, throwing and the field presence,” O’Neil said. “We’re getting better each week but as the season progresses, we’re hoping to open some eyes in the county.”
Patience has been key as several kids are starting from scratch.
“I’m very impressed with how far they’ve come; they look great,” Carolina Forest girls coach Jade Seay said. “From the time they started to now, they’ve learned so much. I couldn’t ask for a better group; they’ve come a long way.”
Said Gross: “We’re looking pretty good. We have some really talented kids and really good athletes that have never played the sport, but they’re athletic and coachable enough that they’re picking it up quickly.”
Fox believes a longstanding youth program at Pepper Geddings Recreation Center has been key in the development of area players and hopes to see the trend continue, especially now that there’s more high school programs to feed into.
“Myrtle Beach has had a youth program at Pepper Geddings as far back as 2010, maybe before. It’s always been an outlet for lacrosse for our kids and it’s been a good thing,” Fox said. “There have been some good kids that are products of these youth programs. The city has endorsed the sport for a while and I give credit to Pepper Geddings and everyone there for jumping on board with it all and it in turn has helped us tremendously. We’re hoping it will get to a point where the kids aren’t learning the game at this level, but at an earlier age.”
Now that five area schools have sanctioned lacrosse programs, Fox is hoping to schedule some tournaments down the road to hopefully bring in teams from other regions.
“We want to grow the sport. It’s all about making lacrosse better in the Myrtle Beach area and making it a hotspot for lacrosse,” Fox said. “In the past we’ve had teams from all over come down and participate in tournaments like North Carolina, New York, Tennessee and Ohio. So we’re hoping to have more of that and we’ll have some more schools for them to play.”
While the lacrosse season has yet to start with Monday’s matches postponed because of winter weather, the teams are eager to get started. Myrtle Beach hosts St. James in an inaugural doubleheader on Wednesday that begins with the girls playing at 5:30 p.m.
“We’re all excited,” O’Neil said. “A lot of people don’t exactly know what the game is about, but once they come to see it I think they’re going to catch some of the excitement also.”
With five teams in place, it appears lacrosse has planted it roots along the Grand Strand.
“When I moved here there was one lacrosse team in the area so to see it now with all these schools, it’s been a long time coming,” Seay said. “I’m excited that it’s finally here to stay.”