The Syracuse men's lacrosse team has won nine NCAA championships but has never played a game west of Denver.
That streak is scheduled to end Saturday when the Orange plays in the four-team First 4 showcase at the Home Depot Center in Carson. The event also will represent another milestone for the sport, which is finding a foothold in Southern California.
The showcase is being organized by Pantheon International, which also produces the John Wooden Classic at the Arrowhead Pond.
Pantheon joins a growing list of promoters, venue operators and enthusiasts who are taking advantage of the sport's growth in the region.
The Southern California Girls Lacrosse Assn. increased from five teams in 2003 to 29 this year. And the Pacific Coast Lacrosse Assn., which began with six middle school teams in 1999, added 13 high school and middle school teams this year, bringing its membership to approximately 50.
The growth has led the Southern Section, the governing body for athletics at most high schools in the Southland, to sanction the sport beginning next spring.
"It's going through another growth spurt right now," said Gary Greenbaum, president and co-founder of the PCLA.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns and operates Staples Center and the Home Depot Center, formed a partnership last week with Major League Lacrosse, which will bring an expansion team to the Home Depot Center in May 2006.
The yet-to-be-named professional team will be the second to make its debut in Southern California since last year.
It wasn't a hard sell for Scott Blackmun, chief operating officer for AEG, which will handle the team's day-to-day operations.
Blackmun spent three years working for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado, where lacrosse has flourished. He believes the sport's popularity in Southern California is headed in the same direction.
"If you look at the way it's spreading from east to west, we're in the middle of some explosive growth," he said.
After this weekend, there could be a new batch of Southland lacrosse fans.
Syracuse, ranked No. 5 in the nation, will play No. 11 Georgetown in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday.
Tenth-ranked North Carolina and No. 14 Notre Dame will play in the first game, scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
After Saturday's event, fans can show their ticket stubs and receive a two-for-one deal on selected tickets when the Anaheim Storm plays host to the Toronto Rock in a National Lacrosse League game at the Arrowhead Pond.
Ted and Tiffany Cronin of Anaheim Hills, season-ticket holders for the Mighty Ducks, became hooked on lacrosse last year after watching an exhibition.
"It's exactly like hockey except they're not wearing skates," Ted Cronin said.
Speed, athleticism and high-scoring games aren't the only ingredients that draw interest. Phil and Cathie Herberts of Lake Forest appreciate that many of the coaches and players have regular jobs, which require them to fly in for home games.
"This is a good sport to go watch, because they're doing it for the love of the game," said Phil Herberts, a 10-year season-ticket holder for the Mighty Ducks.
"When the Angels went on strike, we left them. Now that hockey is on strike, we will not go back."
Lacrosse and hockey could be considered relatives. Both have roots in Canada, although lacrosse got a head start when it was invented by Native Americans. Each requires agile footwork and dynamic stick work with a blend of toughness.
Where the sports differ is their playing surfaces and functions of the stick. Major League Lacrosse plays on soccer-sized grass fields resembling traditional field lacrosse. The Storm plays on indoor hockey-sized ovals with synthetic turf, similar to box lacrosse.
A lacrosse stick measures anywhere from 30 to 60 inches in length, depending on the position. A pocket is on the end of the stick, similar to a butterfly net, allowing players to catch, pass and shoot, primarily through the air and often with much trickery.
It can also be used to dislodge the ball from an opponent's stick, whether by poking, prodding or swinging.
Goalkeepers defend at each end with larger-pocketed sticks. Goals are worth one point, unless it's an MLL game, where a two-point scoring line has been added. Like hockey or soccer, man-advantage situations can play an integral part of the game.
The NLL has added wrinkles as well. Probably most noticeable are a shot clock and the rock-concert atmosphere, differentiating the sport from traditional field lacrosse.
Gary Gait, the NLL's all-time leading scorer, plays for the Colorado Mammoth. In the last three years, he's credited with turning lacrosse into the sport of choice for many in the Denver area. While the Storm averaged a league-low 4,750 last season, the Mammoth averaged a league-high 17,618.