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National Girls and Women in Sports Day: Women of the Arena Lacrosse League

For National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the NLL worked with the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL) and their Women’s Divisions to tell the story of three of their participants, two players and a coach. As a partner of the NLL, the ALL has provided an avenue for potential NLL players a way to keep improving their game and be ready for the potential call to a NLL team.

The ALL expanded west for this season for their men’s division as well as their women’s division. The ALL now plays in Ontario and British Columbia and plays by NLL rules. Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports for women and these athletes are craving opportunities to try their hand at box lacrosse. According to the NCAA, in 2000, there were 238 women’s lacrosse teams across DI, DII, and DIII. By the 2017-18 school year, that number rose to 505. To check out the schedule for the ALL’s Women Divisions, click here for the West and East Divisions and follow along on Twitter.

Breanna Hollingshead:

Hometown: Coquitlam, British Columbia

Team: Team Purple

Position: Athlete

Lacrosse career: started playing at 4 years old

Favorite NLL Team: Vancouver Warriors

Favorite NLL Player: Reid Bowering

Instagram Handle: Breanna.12

Cherlyn Billy:

Hometown: Shuswap Nation, Bonaparte Indian Band, located near Cache Creek, BC

Team: Team Black

Position: Coach

Lacrosse career: 11 years of box lacrosse experience

Favorite NLL Team: Currently the Buffalo Bandits, formerly the Toronto Rock

Favorite NLL Players: Colin Doyle and Jim Veltman when they both played for Toronto Rock back in the day. I was also a huge fan of John Tavares who currently coaches Buffalo Bandits. Steve Priolo became one of my current favourites a few years ago due to his lacrosse IQ. He is a true team player.

Megan Kinna:

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia

Team: Team Blue

Position: Midfield in field, everywhere in box

Lacrosse career: started playing at 4 years old

College Team: Northwestern University

Favorite NLL Team: Vancouver Warriors

Favorite NLL Player: Kevin Crowley

Instagram Handle:@megankinna_

Twitter Handle: @megan_kinna

How did you get into box lacrosse?

Breanna: I grew up watching my older brothers play and I just knew that that was something I wanted to do. I was always interested in box more than field.

Cherlyn: I lived in Ontario for 4 years and became involved in lacrosse when my friend brought me to my first Toronto Rock game. One of the Toronto Rock players was coaching her box lacrosse team and gave a few tickets so that we could watch him play. That was in 2002. I saw quite a few Toronto Rock games and felt Coach Les Bartley brought out the best in his players. It was difficult watching the NLL Championship game in 2005, knowing he was not on the bench.

I became a Buffalo Bandits fan after seeing the team dynamics and coaching style. Watching Buffalo Bandits win the NLL Championship in 2008 was a highlight because I was able to be there and see the effort the team took to get there.  I was a fan of Buffalo Bandits after watching them play Toronto in a division final match up. Coaching is everything. When you see a team play the game the way it is meant to be played, it makes it much more exciting, and you see it not as individual players but as a full team game.

Megan: My older brother played box before I did so naturally, I followed in his footsteps, my parents wanted us to be tough!

What is your favorite thing about playing/coaching box lacrosse?

Breanna: I love the social aspect that box brings to the game. It is something that we can do together and gives everyone of different skill level the opportunity to play. We also get in some good exercise because the pace of the game is so fast.

Cherlyn: As an inaugural coach for this years ALL Women’s West Division, I have enjoyed seeing my team build up their confidence and endurance with each game played. It has been two years since most have had a stick in their hand so it has been a process. As well, the NLL rules are a bit different than what they are used to since most have not played full contact, but aside from that, it has been a great process. I have also been learning from them. We don’t have practices so each game is essentially an opportunity to add in some strategy.

Megan: The physicality and pace of the game. I love hitting and getting hit and bouncing back up again.

What do you believe is the biggest misconception about women playing/coaching box lacrosse?

Breanna: People think that women’s lacrosse is easy and not a physical sport. We can and will compete to the same level as the men. I have had more broken bones playing lacrosse than anyone I know. I have also been able to play at a high level with the Team BC program. I can tell you that you need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared for the game. I think people who watch the women play think that we may not like that part of the game, but it is what keeps me going and digging deep even when exhausted.

Cherlyn: I was surprised to be invited to coach. I find that most of Box Lacrosse teams are generally coached by men. In fact, my team is the only one with two female co-coaches. When I took my Competitive Introduction Box Lacrosse technical over 2 and a half years ago, I was the only female in a room with 11 men. I wasn’t intimidated. We were all there for the same reason. And it is how I feel about the ALL Coaches. I may not have coached at the highest level, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t made it my priority to understand and learn and we are all committed to making this experience the best for our female athletes. It is an exciting time. It would be nice to see more female coaches but the men I have been honored to stand beside are there for their daughters who are playing so the interest is there.

Megan: It’s “not entertaining” because women are playing the game. We’ve got the same action-packed entertainment: hits, BTB’s, nice plays etc… It’s time the women’s side has the same level of respect the men get.

Courtesy of Megan Kinna

Where do you want to see women’s box lacrosse eventually grow to?

Breanna: We are gaining ground here. The World Lacrosse Championship and Olympics are a fantastic example of this. Giving the world an opportunity to see our capabilities is helping the game for women, but I would love to eventually see NLL teams.

Cheryln: In the future, it would be nice to see Box Lacrosse at Worlds and to see the ALL Women’s division be a competition between the East and West and maybe include a few more divisions out there. My mantra is participation + access + opportunity equals progress.

Megan: I think for myself and a lot of other past teammates would’ve loved the opportunity to play box lacrosse in college, whether that be in the states or in Canada. As well as play box lacrosse in a world championship (which I know some people are working very hard to achieve!). I would love to see the women’s side go pro for box lacrosse!

What is it like playing/coaching in the ALL?

Breanna: I love playing with girls that are older. They bring a lot to the game and I have been able to watch them on the floor and learn from them. These girls all have such amazing skill and talent. I love the fact that when we are on the floor, we all have the same goal in mind. We want to play and compete.

Cherlyn: Coaching in the All has been an amazing experience. First, being on the bench with such positive energy and seeing the mentorship and support being transferred between players has made me appreciate the commitment of Savanna Smith, Denise Forlin, Christine Morrison, and Jenn Forlin who managed to coordinate everything with the ALL in less than 2 months. It tells me that when you heart is in the right place, things happen at lightning speed. And when women see that kind of support, it makes them feel important. The numbers of athletes who show up each Sunday wanting to play are a great example of how much they appreciate the effort.

Megan: Awesome atmosphere, everyone has good stick skills and can catch/pass really well. Blue team has a lot of praise and great energy on the bench. Everyone cheers each other on and we have fun! I get gassed at times but it’s a great feeling to be playing box lax again.

Courtesy of Cherlyn Billy

What else could leagues like the NLL, ALL, or youth leagues do to recruit more girls to play lacrosse?

Breanna: I would say you need to bring more awareness to the sport. We get treated so differently than the men’s league. This starts at youth! Community leagues need to put the same attention into the females as the do the males. They get more floor time, more tournaments, more attention. More thought is put into what the men need, and we get the leftovers. This needs to change. Development needs to begin in youth sports. This is how we will get to the level that we deserve.

Cheryln: When other female athletes see someone doing something, it makes it attainable. Social media and media stories highlighting female athletes’ skills, abilities, and their commitment is what will grow the game. If an athlete plays any sport, it is transferrable to playing lacrosse. As well, the teachings around lacrosse are important. Having those as part and parcel of the modern game will move it forward. I know the NLL had one of the first female goalies playing in the league. That was a bold move and I imagine helped several females play lacrosse as goalies.

Megan: Promote girls to bring their friends to games, practices etc. Have fun, “try lacrosse” days, bring lacrosse into the school programs and have high school, club and lacrosse gym classes too. Girls get in free to lacrosse games: NLL. ALL : have a clinic day where kids sign up to play lacrosse.

Any other information or thoughts you would like to share?

Cherlyn: I acknowledge the Jacobs Family from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario for sharing their love of the game of lacrosse with me when I lived there. I doubt I would be where I am were it not for them. Lacrosse is more than just a game. It is a way of life. I also acknowledge that in an era of truth and reconciliation, there is more awareness raised of the healing aspect of lacrosse. It unifies us in an important way.