Northwestern women’s lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller confirmed Wednesday that the Big Ten will add women’s lacrosse beginning in the 2014-2015 season.
The talks began when Maryland and Rutgers announced last November that they were joining the Big Ten in other major sports like football and basketball. With the addition of these two programs, and with Michigan starting a team next season, there will be six Big Ten teams with women’s lacrosse programs, the minimum number required to garner an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“When you have a conference office behind you, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Amonte Hiller said. “You get a whole different level of support, attention, media attention, everything.”
NU, Maryland, Rutgers, and Michigan will be joined by Ohio State and Penn State, two teams on the rise in the past few years. Amonte Hiller said that she hopes a home base in the Midwest will encourage other Big Ten schools to field teams in the future.
“It would be awesome to have more schools in the Midwest,” she said. “We already go to the East Coast, Maryland, Rutgers, we already take those trips so to have teams like Minnesota or Wisconsin or whoever added will be a great thing.”
Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. According to the U.S. Lacrosse website, youth participation has grown over 77 percent since 2006. The growing number of youth lacrosse players in the Midwest will have more options near home if they pursue college lacrosse. Though it will make Midwest recruiting more competitive for NU, it will also make the conference more competitive and presumably more lucrative for the Big Ten schools.
The new conference will also allow the budding rivalry to grow between NU and Maryland, the only school besides Northwestern to win a National Championship in the last eight years. The Terrapins came back to beat the Wildcats, 13-11, in the 2010 championship game.
“(To) add a perennial powerhouse like Maryland, it’s great,” Amonte Hiller said. “It just makes our conference that much more competitive and I think we should have the most competitive conference in the country … It’s a really big step for the sport of lacrosse.”
In a matchup of current ALC opponents and future Big Ten opponents, NU will take on Penn State this Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament at Lakeside Field.