Lacrosse has long been thought of as the East Coast's novelty sport.
Every spring, the NCAA Tournament features teams primarily from the Northeast as the rest of the country looks on with reluctant curiosity. It can be difficult for kids outside of that region to find an outlet for their interest, but a dedicated group of Nebraska athletes have committed to growing the sport they love for future generations.
"At times, it's tough to be a lacrosse player in Nebraska ... there's a lot of quick judgments," said Millard North graduate Aaron Gosch. "People say, 'Oh, you play lacrosse, that's not a real sport.' They don't look at it like football and basketball. It's not as big of a community, but it's rapidly growing. We're changing the perception."
Gosch and his Nebraska United team of players from Elkhorn, Lincoln and Omaha hit the field Saturday morning at Lincoln Southwest against Millard West's club team in the Cornhusker State Games.
Like many events in the State Games, the teams are made up of a devoted group of players hungry to compete other than with their traveling club teams. Most of the players have grown up playing with or against one another, so the Games have become a showcase for how much the sport has developed in Nebraska over the past decade.
While the sport is growing at a notable pace, it can still be hard to get enough teams to fill a bracket following the demanding club season. After Saturday's opening match, which Millard West won, the sides split into three smaller teams to play in a round-robin event just for the sake of competition.
"This is a pretty laid-back event, which is a nice change of pace from our competitive season," Nebraska United coach T.J. Westfall said.
Westfall also coaches the Lincoln Rampage, one of the premier lacrosse teams in the state. He's a former Rampage player who played football at Nebraska Wesleyan, and is one of the state's biggest advocates for lacrosse.
"We currently have 10 teams in our league, eight from Nebraska and two from Iowa," Westfall said. "We have programs coming up every year. It's getting close to where we want it to be. We're beginning to talk to schools and we're probably a couple of years away from it at the high school level."
Youth leagues have sprung up in both Omaha and Lincoln in the past five years.
"We've got about a hundred kids who are playing youth right now," Westfall said. "It takes a little bit of time, we're still trying to get a youth league for girls lacrosse, but it's on its way. We have a lot more kids getting experience outside of the spring leagues."