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Battle of the Bucs

Duncan MacLean • May 17, 2017 at 12:20 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Cancer got a kick in the pants Tuesday night, fueled by unbridled community spirit, competition and fun.

Blue and pink were tossed out in favor of purple as the Grand Haven boys and Grand Haven girls lacrosse teams faced off in a Bucs Pride Night, cancer-awareness exhibition game at Grand Haven High School, combining the rules and style of the two games.

The boys took the girls’ sticks into battle, bound by shallow pockets and the no-contact rules of the women’s game. The girls enjoyed the pocket security of the boys’ deeper sticks and the unfamiliar privilege of all-you-can-throw stick checks.

The girls took the field after chants of “do you want to win?” “Yes!”, while the boys ran to defend “their house” to chants of “where my dogs at?” — a mantra of theirs this season.

The boys eventually triumphed, 7-5, over the Lady Bucs, despite some lopsided calls from head referee and girls head coach Scott Sweet-Christian.

“I was nervous at first,” Sweet-Christian said. “Just like the boys, my girls are serious competitors. You get one side riled up and the other follows, but they had total control and so much fun out there.

The first half was played in two 12-minute quarters, in the style of the boys game. The teams traded goals to open the contest as everyone got used to their new regulations and equipment, with Ian McClain grabbing first-blood honors.

The girls would not be outdone, scoring the equalizer on a solo dodge from Elise Betten, to a rousing cheer from the crowd.

After goalies Autumn Eslick and Gabe Liebetrieu traded coast-to-coast carries and shot attempts, the boys took control, finishing off the first quarter leading, 4-2.

The second half brought with it girl-style airborne draws in the faceoff circle, bamboozling the boys and giving the girls a few quality fast break tries.

They netted one, cutting the lead to one, before Drake Morley, typically a defender for the Bucs, showed off his dangles on a long, one-handed cradle to the cage, scoring a rare goal for the defenseman.

On the other end of the field, the Bucs attackmen had their hands full with the girls defensive squad, who had a little extra range via the boys’ long sticks.

“The girls didn’t know what to do with the long sticks,” Sweet-Christian said. “Jordan Spruit had some fun out there doing the boys rules with the checking.”

“Oh yeah, I loved it,” Spruit said of the special equipment.

By halftime, the boys led, 6-3. The second half played out as a 24-minute no break half, such as they do in the girls game and featured more alternating goals, smiles and some good natured trash talk.

It was a day full of fun for a good cause, and truly put on display the sportsmanship and caring atmosphere fostered by the two lacrosse programs.

“There are so many kids playing lacrosse in the area right now, to see them all come together, boys and girls, to fight something terrible that happens, it was fun,” Sweet- Christian said. “I saw the girls jabbing it up with the guys, strengthening the lacrosse family. That is fun.”

The idea for the community-building scrimmage came about two years ago during the recruitment of boys head coach Lee Ingalls, who mentioned it during his interview process.

“Lee (Ingalls) brought it up in his interview and it went from there,” Sweet-Christian said. “This year, we made a commitment to make it happen.”

The contest accomplished its primary goal of raising awareness for the Bucs Pride cause, donating all the concession, ticket and general donation funds straight to the fight against cancer.

In addition, the good cause and great cooperation brought together a community of lacrosse players and fans.

“It was a good game, with great sportsmanship from both teams,” Spruit said. “The guys game is a lot more fast-paced than ours and they are definitely more physical. But we got up in their game and stuck with it. We held them within a few goals, which was cool, because they thought they would cream us.”

Despite the boys’ confidence, the contest served as a bonding experience for both programs.

“When the boys come support the girls, and the girls support the boys and the stands are full — it feels like a family, I think that inspires kids to succeed,” Sweet-Christian said.

“Everyone was a winner here tonight,” Grand Haven boys head coach Lee Ingalls said. “You can see by the amount of people in the stands and the smiles on all the kid’s faces that this was a fun event.”

The game also served as a mental break before both teams begin their state-playoff journeys over the next week.

“The season is a long grind,” Ingalls said. “We have the playoffs ahead of us, so we couldn’t have asked for a better night to just relax and have fun.

The boys will face off with Zeeland on Thursday, while the girls will enjoy a bye into the second round, taking on the winner of Zeeland vs. Hudsonville on Wednesday, May 24.

“I love that matchup,” Ingalls added. “You can throw out the records once you get into the playoffs. We’ve been tested with a tough schedule, so we aren’t intimidated. I like where we are at right now. Our tempo is there, our execution is there, but we’ve just come up short in some close games, lately.” 

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