One of the biggest milestones in the history of collegiate lacrosse occurred in 1971. In that year the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) created the NCAA lacrosse championship, in which the top 12 Division 1 lacrosse teams compete in a tournament each year to determine that year's champion. Previously, the championship was awarded by the USILL and decided by a vote. In the first NCAA championship, Cornell defeated Maryland 12-6.
The NCAA tournament is a tradition which continues today and has grown considerably since its beginning. At the 1997 NCAA Championship at the University of Maryland, the championship game was attended by over 30,000 fans, a big jump from the first tournaments of the early 70's, when there were never even close to 10,000 spectators.
Photo by Jerry Shifflett
The major surge in popularity of NCAA lacrosse started in the late 80's, when attendance to games first began to rise. This is largely due to the Gait twins, Paul and Gary, who played for Syracuse University, winning three consecutive NCAA Championships from 1988-91. Paul and Gary were excellent athletes and did many amazing moves, such as the Air-Gait, lacrosse's version of basketball's slam dunk. The Gaits' ability to execute such maneuvers helped the game of lacrosse because they were the first lacrosse players that were given extensive media attention throughout the United States.
The Gait twins started a trend in lacrosse because now many NCAA players show athletic talent as well as stick skills, probably because the Gaits attracted more skilled athletes to the sport. They were so good that during their careers at Syracuse, record crowds showed up to see them play. The Gait twins, who grew up playing in western Canada, were lacrosse's first bona-fide stars because they were the first to attract extensive fan and media attention. After the Gaits' college career, the popularity of lacrosse grew both in fan support and player participation.
As mentioned earlier, the Gaits helped Syracuse win three consecutive national championships and dominate the NCAA in the late 80's. Before then, only Johns Hopkins University (1978-1980) had ever won three NCAA titles in a row. This feat remained unmatched until May 25, 1998, when Princeton defeated Maryland 15-5 to win its third consecutive title and its fifth under Coach Bill Tierney (also coach of 1998 Team USA) since 1992. So after Johns Hopkins dominated the late 70's decade and Syracuse ruled the late 80's, Princeton now owns the 90's decade.
In fact, the NCAA era has been dominated by only a select group of schools, and one good example of that is that only four different teams (Johns Hopkins, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Princeton) have won the last 21 championships dating back to 1978.
Photo by Jerry Shifflett
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