New Face, New Name, New Swagger
Story & Photos by Branden Andersen
This past weekend, I caught word of a lacrosse game that was in progress at Spencer Butte Middle School. Having played the sport in high school, I decided to head over and see what exactly was going on. At first, I expected to see the University of Oregon club team, or even a local high school league. Instead, I was surprised to see a team clad in black and lime green with assorted helmets and other gear. I heard one of the guys yell to a teammate with a voice deep with age. Then I looked to the sidelines.
This wasn’t a university or high school team. This was a men’s club lacrosse team. With players ranging in age from nineteen to somewhere in the forties (the most senior player wouldn’t specify his exact age), these were grown men, both in college and beyond. Here was the new Hop Valley Brewing sponsored lacrosse team—the men’s choice for those who didn’t make or can’t afford the University team or who simply don’t want to quit playing the game they love after graduation. Twenty-six out of the team’s thirty-two are affiliated with the University, whether they are current students, coaches, or alumni.
Started in 1985, the Eugene Men’s Lacrosse Club (then the Eugene Nutria) pulled together players who simply loved lacrosse. Over the years, however, leadership fell apart and the team started to crumble. This season, under the direction of player-manager Ryan McCloskey, came a new sponsor: Hop Valley Brewery. The Springfield-based company helps pay for travel expenses and team uniforms.
“I couldn’t say how much it helped us,” McCloskey says. “Do you want to wear blue and white of the Eugene Nutria, or do you want to play for this hometown brewery who has great colors, a great logo, and who wants to help us out?”
The team’s tryouts are held in January with the season starting in April. There are four practices pre-season, and then the team plays twelve games in a two-month period. As far as commitment, it’s what every player dreams of—just show up and play. There are no required practices during the season, and games are located in the Pacific Northwest (the furthest away is in Seattle). Although there isn’t as much practice as a school-affiliated team would have, McCloskey still believes that there is a strong camaraderie between the players: “In previous years—no, not really. But even in pre-season this year, the guys started getting along quickly and it really feels like a team”
The Hop Valley Lacrosse team’s biggest impact has been its influence in developing the sport in the Northwest, specifically in Eugene. “As the kids graduate high school or college, it’s great that they have the option to play lacrosse,” McCloskey says. “I would really like to see lacrosse build up in the Northwest, and by having options for people to go play, I believe that we can make it happen.”
Those options also help aspiring Ducks. Some of the UO coaches play for Hop Valley, allowing young players to get exposure and possibly help if they want to join the Ducks the following year. This past season seventy players showed up for try-outs for a team that could only house thirty-two.
“With the amount of players in the area that want to play lacrosse, I’d love to get another team in Eugene that we could play against,” McCloskey says. “I can’t run both teams, so all they need is for someone to step up and take initiative. This city could house another team no problem.”
Clint Hesselgren, a nineteen-year-old Lane Community College sophomore and Hop Valley defender, believes that both the University club and Hop Valley are helping the game progress in Eugene.
“Coming from California where there are club and high school teams up and down the state, there aren’t as many opportunities for younger kids up in the Northwest to see how the game really should be played,” he says. “Learning at a young age the tricks and nuances of the game really helps in the development of new players. With the Hop Valley team, hopefully we are showing the younger generation of ‘laxers’ how much fun the game can be when played right.”
For McCloskey, lacrosse has always been addicting. “I think the sport kind of does that in itself (recruits new players). All you have to do is get a stick in your hand and it becomes a part of you,” he says. “You just want to get better and better and before you know it you can’t put the stick down.”
Clearly, the team is showing the right way to play the game. Hop Valley is currently at the top of the Cascade Men’s Lacrosse League with a record of nine wins and no losses; with the last win, the team secured a playoff spot. They have 123 goals for and only forty-nine goals against.
To be a member of the team, a player has to pay the entrance fee of $275, which guarantees that he play every game of the season both home and away. There are other options available, such as a jersey, helmet, shorts or gloves, that can be purchased for additional costs. It’s a considerably cheaper option compared to the $2,200 required to play for the UO men’s lacrosse team.
Hop Valley plays practice pick-up games every Wednesday 7:30 p.m. at Spencers Butte Middle School. The cover charge is five dollars to rent the field. The team’s last game is Sunday, June 5.