Sep. 22—Another women's lacrosse program is coming to the Chippewa Valley.
UW-Stout announced Wednesday it is adding the sport to its athletic department, with play beginning in the spring of 2023. The school will immediately launch a national search for a head coach, it said in a release.
"UW-Stout is ready to be a part of the fastest growing sport in the NCAA," UW-Stout Athletic Director Duey Naatz said in the release. "We plan to have a coach in place in the fall who will hit the ground running to assemble all the pieces for a competitive program. It is an exciting time to introduce the sport of lacrosse into the Stout community as well as the surrounding community."
The Blue Devils will be the fourth WIAC school to sponsor women's lacrosse. UW-Eau Claire launched a program on Oct. 18, 2019, and hit the field for the first time last spring. Teams at UW-River Falls and UW-La Crosse predate the Blugolds. UW-River Falls was the first, beginning play in the 2018-19 school year, and last year made history by making the NCAA Tournament field for the first time.
UW-Eau Claire won its first ever game, besting Clarke 13-9, and went 4-4 in its first year despite dealing with COVID-related postponements and cancellations.
"It came as a surprise to us," UW-Eau Claire assistant coach Dené Schiefer said of UW-Stout's addition. "It's good for competition. That's how we'll get better, by playing more teams."
Seven other Division III schools in Wisconsin have women's lacrosse teams, as well as nearby Minnesota schools Augsburg, Hamline and Northwestern-St. Paul. The sport has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with 26 schools adding programs in 2020. UW-Stout wasn't even the only school to add a program Wednesday. Division II Augusta University also joined the fold, becoming the first women's lacrosse program in South Dakota.
"It's exciting for the sport itself," Schiefer said. "Wisconsin is fairly new to lacrosse relative to the country. It's growing. That's great news for us. More teams to play."
The sport of lacrosse is most popular on the East Coast but has seen growth throughout the rest of the country. That includes Minnesota, notably the Twin Cities area.
Women's lacrosse will be the 19th NCAA varsity sport and 11th women's sport in UW-Stout's athletic department. It had previously been a club sport on campus.
"We will continue to review our sports module and work with our administration as we look to the expansion of Blue Devils Athletics," Naatz said.
The Blue Devils will play their home games on the newly renovated Nelson Field, which was equipped with artificial turf in 2020. That material will allow the team to compete in the late winter and throughout the unpredictable Wisconsin spring weather.