BY MIKE BLACKERBY
Basketball had always been Hailey Carroll’s sport of choice, but she was looking for a change.
“I had been playing AAU for years, but come eighth grade I didn’t really want to play basketball anymore,” said the Christian Academy junior.
Carroll recalled seeing an ad looking for lacrosse players, and admitted she didn’t know anything about the centuries-old sport.
“I found out about it (lacrosse) just kind of out of the blue,” said Carroll.
High school girls’ lacrosse involves 12 players on a team and players play with a small rubber ball and attempt to catch, carry, pass and shoot the ball into the opponent’s goal.
They advance the ball using a long-handled stick, or crosse, with netting that allows them to catch and hold the lacrosse ball.
“It’s like if you took basketball, soccer and hockey and combined them,” explained Carroll.
“I picked up the stick, stuck with it and it’s the best thing I ever did.”
Carroll quickly caught onto the sport and has since become one of the area’s top players.
She plays the attack position and scored 83 goals as a sophomore for the Lady Warriors.
“From an attack perspective, she just has a nose for the goal,” said first-year CAK coach Holly Kelly, who played lacrosse in college at James Madison.
“She has very good stick work and she has really worked hard. Hailey has improved immensely and is by far the strongest player on our team.”
Carroll’s play drew interest from several schools.
On Dec. 17 she made a verbal commitment to Gardner-Webb (N.C.) University, which made its debut as a Division I lacrosse program in 2015.
“I started the recruiting process my freshman year and had a few offers from other schools, but I was always set on where I was going,” Carroll explained.
Carroll said she can’t believe how far she has come in the sport in three short years, and how quickly lacrosse has caught on in the area.
“I had never even heard of the sport in eighth grade,” she recounted. “It’s insane how fast it has grown.”
From humble beginnings
Patrick Doyle was looking for a sport he could get his daughters involved in.
His background was in hockey, but he read an article about lacrosse being one of the fastest-growing sports for girls.
So lacrosse it was.
“I had no idea what I was doing the first year,” said Doyle, who started the area’s first school-based lacrosse program for girls at Seymour eight years ago, at the same time as Catholic did.
“I started calling college coaches to find out everything I could (about lacrosse),” he explained.
“The first day we went to do sign-ups I went to Seymour and told them I wanted to start a lacrosse team. They looked at me like I had three heads and laughed. We had 70 girls who signed up to play. They told me a lot of them probably just signed up to get out of class, but that first day of practice we had 63 girls show up.”
The Lady Eagles quickly developed into the area’s top girls program.
Seymour was 12th in the state last year and two years ago were No. 6, the best finish in school history.
Doyle’s youngest daughter, Ryann, last year became the first lacrosse player from East Tennessee to sign a Division I scholarship when she inked with Presbyterian.
His oldest daughter, Meaghan, played at Seymour and signed with Lee University.
Doyle said it has been gratifying to see the growth of the sport in the area.
“With the explosion of the sport there are unlimited opportunities for these kids,” he said.
“If you play lacrosse, there is a place for you. When you see girls like Ryann and Hailey, who works tremendously hard, you’re starting to see the level of lacrosse come up.”
Seymour figures to have another powerhouse this season despite some heavy losses.
“We graduated 12 seniors from last year and we’re kind of starting over, but we have some key players back including all-state goalie Olivia McCarrell,” said Doyle.
Looking to the future
Girls’ lacrosse in Tennessee currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Girls Lacrosse Association.
Doyle said there are about 50 girls’ teams and 50 boys’ teams in the state that play lacrosse.
Starting this season, there will be a private/public split for lacrosse.
Locally, girls’ teams will play in two divisions – East 1 and East 2.
East 1 teams include Farragut, CAK, Catholic, Roane County (Kingston and Midway) and West Knox (basically an at-large team).
East 2 teams include Alcoa, Seymour, Sevier County, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg-Pittman.
The TSSAA will assume jurisdiction over lacrosse in 2021-22.
Doyle said it’s a logical next step for the sport.
“It’s a good thing from a standpoint of growth, but from a bad point a lot more controls will be put in place,” he said.