Sport Comment Sport

Lacrossing the divide

As the new season draws ever-closer, Claire Thomas, University of York Lacrosse Club President, talks to Jamie Summers about the changing nature of the club and campaign ahead.

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Image: Petroc Taylor
Image: Petroc Taylor

The story of UoY Lacrosse Club's last season is simple. Two teams, two promotions, two unbeaten records, two cup wins. It doesn't get much better.
And with such success under their belts, it seemed almost remiss of us not to have a catch-up with new UYLC President, Claire Thomas. Sat in an otherwise-deserted YUSU Centre, there's a clear sense of excitement in Thomas's voice that good things are to come from her club this year. Last season's huge success is something which she sees as essential for taking the club forward.

"Last season is going to have a colossal impact on how we go into this season. The confidence that we have as teams after having unbeaten seasons and cup runs is just astonishing. In division two, the women's goal difference across eight fixtures was 125, and the men's was 179. We absolutely smashed it.

You could be forgiven for thinking that after the rise, comes an inevitable fall; it's no secret that after an unprecedented 11 promotions last season, some tough times could be ahead for York's clubs. But Thomas isn't concerned about facing the drop.

"It's not going to be about avoiding relegation. Actually, we're going to thrive in division one. And part of the reasoning for her confidence comes from the fresh batch of players flooding through the revolving door that is University sport.

"The calibre of players we've pooled this season is fantastic. We've already got three Freshers on the girls' team that came into our pre-season and walked onto the first team. There will be more at Freshers' fair, and we're one of the clubs that retain members the most successfully. Going into the season we're going to have enormous squads, very strong and coming off the back of the best season imaginable, the confidence that the second and third years have will just be imbued into the first years. We'll be forces to be reckoned with."

But, despite the confidence that Thomas has in her club's ability to avoid relegation and even thrive at a higher level next season, there's also an important blend of realism and a recognition that several challenges do lie ahead.

"Promotion is always a double-edged sword. It's fantastic for your sports profile, it means you've had a brilliant season and you're doing the right things, but then carrying that forward is tough.

"In lacrosse, the step up from division two to division one is enormous; we have a very difficult match for the women in the first match against Newcastle firsts. After that first match, maybe we'll give York Sport a bit of cause for concern, and they'll think we're in over our heads, but give us a couple of games to warm up, and you'll see in our training that we're not one of the clubs that should be worried about relegation this year.

With the club going through such extraordinary changes at present, it is surely an exciting time to be heading the charge up the BUCS Leagues. When asked about taking on the new role, the characteristic enthusiasm was once again distinct.

"My to-do list is longer than my lacrosse stick! There's Freshers' stuff coming up, we're re-applying to be a Focus Sport and there's a lot of pressure on me at the moment to perform as president. I ran because I love lacrosse, I want the club to be the best it can possibly be. I've got a lot of objectives I want to meet."

Image: Petroc Taylor
Image: Petroc Taylor

And with the issue having been raised, I couldn't help but enquire whether Thomas thought that York Sport Union's Focus Sport Scheme was worthwhile, her answer was very clear.
"100per cent," came her reply. "My first year [in 2012] was, in the words of Andy Chalmers, [former UYLC President] 'a season of almosts.'

"It was a season where we so nearly managed all that we did last year, but then Focus Sport came along and increased the intensity of our work. Strength & Conditioning made an enormous difference, and I think it's also the prestige that comes with it. People care more, we felt that York Sport were really relying on us to promote the brand, and all those tiny margins tightened up and overall that made all the difference."

And following its success last season, lacrosse has become the latest sport to have its own regular league in College Sport. Thomas is convinced that the new league, starting in 2015, will be of huge benefit to UYLC.

"I think it's a really important thing that we start introducing now. The problem with lacrosse is that it's not widely played before university level. It's incredibly accessible once you get to university, and it's the sort of sport where if you've got any sort of hand-eye ability and fitness, you can pick it up and give it a go."

As part of the evident expansion of lacrosse at the University, Thomas revealed that she is currently negotiating for the sport to be incorporated into next year's Varsity at Durham, before Roses returns to York in Summer Term. The men's lacrosse side suffered a Roses defeat for the first time in the event's history last year, but both teams whitewashed the Red Rose at home in 2013. When questioned on her club's chances at Roses 2015, Thomas was convinced of what the result would be.

"Another walkover. Three wins. Last year was, I think, the only time in eight years, which is since the formation of the lacrosse club, that we've not won a Roses fixture. We're one of the most consistent scorers in the York team when it comes to the White and Red Rose battle. That was an anomaly, a freak. We had a depleted team, and Lancaster played out their skins." And although her response came laced with humour about York's chances next year, there was also some real confidence in her words.

With a new year underway, the air of confidence associated with UYLC is tangible, and inspiring. Thomas is enthusiastic about the potential which lies ahead for the sport and the club, and finished her interview by encouraging York Freshers to get involved in the Lacrosse Club.

"Lacrosse is the fastest growing game on two feet in the world. Come along to a social, come along to a taster session you'll love the sport, you'll love the people. Everyone I know in lacrosse is the backbone to the University experience. I couldn't recommend it more."

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