Hiccup interrupts surge in lacrosse club's popularity

In its five-year existence, UNLV's lacrosse club is mirroring the growth of the sport in Las Vegas. Many high schools have taken up the game, and with the majority of the roster comprised of Las Vegas players, coach Gary Campo believes the Rebels are not that far from emerging into a club power.

"These are dedicated kids," said Campo, who used to coach at Bonanza High School and is currently doubling as the lacrosse coach at Palo Verde. "We're pretty good, but we're very young."

UNLV is 6-5 in the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference with five games remaining in the regular season. But an incident involving sophomore midfielder Eric Jones last month has caused controversy.

Jones, one of the team's top scorers, was involved in a fight against Utah March 5. He was ejected but was on the field the next day against Arizona when the rules stipulated that he sit out the next game. According to the league's report, Jones was involved in another altercation in UNLV's game with Arizona and was subsequently ejected.

The Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which oversees all non-NCAA lacrosse programs, has suspended Jones for the remainder of the 2010 season and all of 2011. In addition, it suspended Campo, who was already on probation for his participation in an incident during the fall that also involved Jones, for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011. The program, which is being coached by assistant Darren Gagnon, was placed on disciplinary probation but remains eligible for postseason play in May should it qualify.

"It's unfortunate, but it's one of those things we have to work through it and that we play the game right," club president Mark Day said. "Our image is a little tarnished right now."

Campo is fighting the suspension and has hired an attorney to take legal action against the MCLA.

Day, a sophomore who plays both goalie and attack, said the team's quality of play has improved thanks to the influx of talent and Campo's coaching.

"A lot of us have played together in high school and on club teams," he said. "We may be young, but in terms of experience in playing lacrosse, most of us have been playing for years."

Day said the team's annual $80,000 budget for travel, league dues, officials, field rental and equipment gets covered through dues and fundraisers. The team hosted a weeklong camp during the winter break and will have another camp this summer. A golf tournament is in the works and the team makes a few bucks selling T-shirts. But Day said it is a challenge to stay afloat financially.

"Some guys struggle to make their dues," he said of the $1,500 a semester it costs each player to play. "We're trying to come up with more creative ways to raise money. But it's hard right now with the economy being what it is."

UNLV's women's lacrosse team, which is in its first year and has 17 players, is going through its own set of growing pains. It only recently secured a coach in Randy Parker and club president Katy Weiser said building the program will be a matter of patience and persistence.

"There are a lot of challenges," said Weiser, a junior midfielder who played at Bonanza High School. "But we've got a lot of dedicated players and we're confident we'll be able to grow. We've had a lot of high school girls at our games tell us they plan to play for us."

The UNLV women, who compete in the Western Women's Lacrosse League, are 6-2. Each player is paying $350 this semester to compete and Weiser said the most frustrating part has been the lack of financial support from the school.

"You're pretty much on your own," she said. "The school doesn't give you much, if anything, so it's up to the players to find a way to pay for the team."

But Weiser hopes that one day women's lacrosse will evolve from a club team into a varsity sport at UNLV.

"Lacrosse is gaining in popularity all over the country," she said. "Women's lacrosse is growing every year, and I'm hopeful that one day we'll be varsity (at UNLV). That would be wonderful to see."