Lacrosse: Season wrap

Six state champions crowned

The season ended over the weekend and, for the first time, six state champions were crowned. On the Girls’ side, the Pace Academy Knights (Class 1A-4A), Blessed Trinity Titans (5A-6A) and Milton Eagles (7A) took home the hardware. Boys champions are the Westminster Wildcats (1A-4A), Roswell Hornets (5A-6A) and West Forsyth Wolverines (7A).

For championship game coverage, go here. For final rankings, go here.

The Knights are champions for the first time in program history, also winning their first area title. The Titans are champions for the third time in a row for the program’s second three-peat, the other coming in 2016-18. The Eagles continue their reign in the highest classification with a sixth consecutive championship and 16th overall. It’s their second six-peat (2010-15).

The Wildcats notched their first championship since 2019 and seventh overall. They now and have the most boys championships in GHSA history with seven, surpassing Lambert. The Hornets have their third championship and first since winning two in a row from 2014-15, and coach Bryan Wallace now has titles at two Roswell schools, also winning with Centennial in 2013. The Wolverines captured the program’s first state championship by beating Lambert a second time this season.

Overall, the first year with three classifications worked out well for the sport, and it will continue next season before another overhaul. The positive was adding more state champions to the mix, allowing both Blessed Trinity and Pace Academy to win on the girls side, whereas before only one could have come out as champions in the 1A-5A tournament. Roswell’s boys would have played in 6A-7A with West Forsyth and Lambert. As mentioned in the playoff preview, one perceived flaw in the new format is the lack of teams in 7A and, consequently, how the areas were divided.

That flaw may be worked on this offseason, as GHSA director Ernie Yarbrough told the AJC in April that coaches could vote on creating some at-large bids, as opposed to the current format of automatic bids from each area.

There will not be an influx of lacrosse teams to add to 7A for next season. Ahead of each school year, schools submit participation surveys to the GHSA, informing it of which sports they intend to participate in. For 2023, there were 124 boys and 113 girls lacrosse teams. In 2024, there will be 121 boys teams and 118 girls teams.

The participation numbers have stayed in that range, Yarbrough said, for nearly a decade now. Those numbers mostly come from the Greater Atlanta area and, until more programs like Benedictine surface in South and Middle Georgia, they’ll continue to stay in the current range.

“The issue is,” Yarbrough said,” when it comes to lacrosse south of Metro Atlanta, there just isn’t any.”

For the rural schools, it might not even come down to lack of interest in some cases.

“A lot of schools share athletes in other sports, and lacrosse is one that takes a lot of players on the field at once,” Yarbrough said. “You’ll need more than for tennis, track and other spring sports. A track team can be one or four or five kids. You look at the size of baseball and soccer teams, and it’s hard after that to have enough lacrosse players to field a team.”

Still, despite the lack of continued growth recently, the sport is sustainable in Georgia, which is a rare feat for the south. The NFHS divides states by section, and Georgia is in Section 3, along with Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Of those states, only Florida and North Carolina are the only others to offer lacrosse at the high school level.

There will be one more year under the format, and while Yarbrough believes in the likelihood that there will still be three classifications for the sport after next year’s reclassification, he’s unsure if the largest will continue to stand alone. Currently, 7A is by itself but after next year, the GHSA will drop to six classifications.

We’ll know in July what the lacrosse committee decides for next year’s playoff format, and if at-large bids will be introduced. Until then, stay tuned for the release of the AJC lacrosse players of the year, to be released sometime this summer.

And with that, another school year is in the books. Have a good summer. Check back end-of-summer for football coverage.