When Moira Mahoney was growing up in Philadelphia, she said lacrosse was a relatively exclusive sport dominated mostly by people who looked like her. Accessibility was low for a wide range of people, and traditionally, those who controlled the sport liked to keep it that way.
But at North High School, where Mahoney is now the coach of the girls’ lacrosse program, the sport has seen a big shift in who is able, and welcome, to pick up a stick and play. Mahoney has been at NHS for five years, the last year as the head coach. She’s heartwarmed by the change, and is a big proponent of spreading the sport to a more diverse pool of women in particular.
“I feel super honored to coach lacrosse because I think the history of lacrosse is really cool, the indegenous roots,” Mahoney said. “Growing up on the east coast playing lacrosse, it was predominantly a very white sport for people with money and privilege. We have such a large indigenous population at North, so I just feel super honored to be able to share lessons with players that have been playing, but also brand new players. Our team is super diverse.”
There are girls that have been playing for years, and girls that have never picked up a stick before, which is really exciting for Mahoney, a lacrosse lifer since she was six years old.
The first two qualities she mentions of her team are kindness and inclusivity.
“I think they recognize that just by being welcoming, kind and inclusive to other players, we can really build this program up. And I think that’s really cool,” Mahoney said.
And it is growing. In Mahoney’s first year, the team only had four subs on the bench. Now, the team is much more full, and Mahoney hopes to soon have a varsity team, a junior varsity team, and potentially a freshmen team. In the 2018-19 season, the team went 2-10. In 2019-20, the team didn’t get to play due to COVID-19. Last season, the team went 5-5, and had several players recognized:
• Reese Ripley (9th grade) – All-State honorable mention & 1st team all-conference
• Rachel Zizmor (11th grade) – 2nd Team all-conference
• Mia Lindstrom (9th grade), Josie Wilson (9th grade), and Mylee Martinez (12th grade) were honorable mentions
“Women’s sports are becoming more popular, which I love to see. Visibility is huge. Growing up, I didn’t really watch professional female athletes play. But now … it’s really just powerful being able to see strong female athletes be successful and getting that recognition that they so deserve,” Mahoney said. “I think that’s probably really motivating for new players.”
The boys’ team at NHS, which was formed by Head Coach Scott Forney in 2013, is about to begin its eighth season. Forney said Colorado is very much a lacrosse state, with University of Denver being the only college west of the Mississippi to win an NCAA championship.
The Denver Outlaws and Colorado Mammoth have consistently drawn the highest attendance in professional lacrosse, he said, and in the last 15 years, the number of high schools with lacrosse programs has gone from the low 30s to more than 70. Despite this, he called the north Denver neighborhood somewhat of a “black hole” for lacrosse.
“Until recently, it was rare to have a student athlete from North that was familiar with the game before joining the high school team,” he said. “Despite that, we have been able to compete at the varsity level, producing quality players that have garnered CHSAA awards and have gone on to compete at the college level.”
The team finished at .500 last season, like the girls, with a record of 7-7. Eleven players received conference honors, as well as players earning All-State for the first time.
Senior Gabe Adams received 2nd Team All-State at the attack position, and senior Nico Kazenske received All State honorable mention at the defensive midfield position. The latter now plays NCAA DIII at Whittier College and the former was introduced to lacrosse in his sophomore year of high school.
Lacrosse is a difficult sport, both coaches said. It takes a smooth combination of finesse, toughness, skill and savvy to play at a
“There’s no shortcuts, no magic wands or wishes, just a boy (or girl) and his (or her) drive to succeed. I’ve seen athletes make amazing progressional strides in short periods of time. It’s all about how much they want it. There’s a place for everybody on the lacrosse field, so long as they can use their stick,” Forney said. “These students take a lot of pride in where they come from. Wearing that North lacrosse jersey with their friends and competing on that field is everything to them.”
Both Mahoney and Forney acknowledged their assistant coaches, adding they wouldn’t be nearly as successful without them. Allie Stahmer for the girls’ team was a volunteer coach last year, and will continue coaching this season. Kevin Bertrand for the boys’ team was honored as the 2021 Assistant Coach of the Year in the Denver Prep Conference.