PHOTO BY DIRK DEWACHTER

The reigning MPSF champion USC will join the Pac-12 in 2018 alongside MPSF rivals Cal, Colorado, Oregon and Stanford, plus new Division I team Arizona State.

The Legacy of the MPSF: Pioneering Lacrosse in the West


Friday will mark the last regular season Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) matchup between the conference’s two youngest programs and only unbeatens – No. 5 Colorado and No. 10 USC, which launched in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

This game could also be a preview of the 2017 MPSF women’s lacrosse championship, which may be the last, as its only nationally ranked teams. The reigning conference champion's final shot at an MPSF title is just “added motivation” to finish this year strong, said Trojans coach Lindsey Munday.

The Buffs and Women of Troy will become members of the inaugural Pac-12 women’s lacrosse conference season in 2018, joining fellow MPSF rivals Cal, Oregon and Stanford, plus Arizona State, a new Division I team slated to debut next spring.

However, the MPSF will not be forgotten.

“The MPSF is where West Coast lacrosse started,” said Munday, a Northwestern and U.S. women’s national team legend. “Over the past five to 10 years, West Coast lacrosse has really picked up and I think it’s really exciting that we, meaning the MPSF, have been a part of that rise.”

Colorado coach Ann Elliott knows a challenge awaits her team on Friday, but despite her program’s young tenure, she knows very well that her conference provided a home for programs out west. Without that home, the opportunity to reach the NCAA tournament wouldn’t exist, nor would it have “created the vision behind a conference like the Pac-12 to add the sport,” she said. 


“The legacy of the MPSF shows the legacy of lacrosse." – San Diego State coach Kylee White


Prior to the launch of the MPSF, a combination of varsity programs and club teams, such as UC Santa Cruz, throughout the west competed in the Western Women’s Lacrosse League (WWLL). By 2001, the varsity and club teams effectively broke off into two separate leagues, thus creating the Mountain Pacific Lacrosse League (MPLL) in which the four varsity teams competed in 2002 and 2003 – California, UC Davis, Saint Mary’s and Stanford.

The MPSF held its inaugural season in 2004 with the four MPLL teams, plus Denver. The conference became eligible for an NCAA automatic qualifying (AQ) bid in 2005 when Oregon added a women’s lacrosse team.

Cal claimed the first conference title in 2004, followed by Stanford winning the next seven championships and nine overall in the MPSF’s 13 seasons. Oregon, Denver and USC broke the Cardinal’s reign in 2012, 2014 and 2016, respectively.

“I take a lot of pride in Stanford winning all those titles, but a lot of those teams didn’t exist. It’s certainly a different landscape [today],” said Stanford coach Amy Bokker. “Having the MPSF, and even having teams like Denver who aren’t on the West Coast necessarily, have really built up the national profile in general. I think other schools seeing the success that a lot of these schools in non-traditional areas have had has helped the overall growth of our sport – period.”

While its structural existence beyond 2017 is unknown, the MPSF will be remembered as the “pioneer” of collegiate West Coast lacrosse, according to Cal coach Brooke Eubanks and Fresno State coach Jess Giglio.

“[It] will forever be tied with growth of the game,” said Giglio. “Without the MPSF, the Pac-12 wouldn’t have happened.”








But as five teams soon break out of the MPSF to start a new chapter in a power five conference, the remaining four teams need to determine what’s best for their programs moving forward without an AQ in 2018.

On Monday, that decision was already made for Saint Mary’s. Its athletic department announced that its varsity team will be reclassified as a club sport following the 2017 season after lengthy discussions by the athletic strategic plan committee and board of trustees.

“These are never easy decisions, but we feel this will be in the best interest of our student-athletes moving forward,” Saint Mary’s president James Donahue said in a press release. “By reclassifying women’s lacrosse to a club sport, this will better align athletics with its peer institutions in the West Coast Conference.”

That leaves Fresno State, San Diego State and UC Davis with a lot to figure out. MPSF bylaws allow the conference to sponsor a sport and championship with four teams, but exceptions to that policy will be up to the MPSF administrative committee. MPSF commissioner Al Beaird “hope[s] to find a positive outcome for these three teams in the near future,” he told US Lacrosse Magazine on Tuesday.

“It is unfortunate that St. Mary’s will no longer be fielding a varsity women’s lacrosse team after this season, but understandable given the university’s recent strategic assessment,” Beaird said. “At this juncture, I am not sure what the future holds for Fresno State, San Diego State, UC Davis and MPSF lacrosse. After considerable discussion with several other conferences last fall, I was not able to find a viable conference alternative for these teams to migrate to.”

However, Giglio is remaining optimistic that the MPSF still will be an option next spring.

“We’re still planning to be in the MPSF with Davis and San Diego State, but we’re definitely hoping that schools add out west because there’s been some talk and some rumors of certain programs adding, but nothing’s been confirmed yet,” Giglio said. “I would love it that if anyone does have questions to contact the schools that are in nontraditional areas. We’d be really open to talk about what it’s like to add a women’s lacrosse team and help support, and [also share] what the big things are that you need when you go to add – because we want people adding.”

“We are strong individually and even stronger as a collective group, so I hope that entices some people to either join the MPSF or look at us as an option,” added Giglio, whose school will begin talking about their options following the completion of the 2017 season.




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Fresno State, San Diego State and UC Davis will be revisiting their options for 2018 after Saint Mary's announced Monday its varsity team was being reclassified as club.


Upon being asked what the legacy of the MPSF will be, given its unknown future, San Diego State coach Kylee White didn’t hesitate. Her university, the first in Southern California to add the sport, joined the conference in 2012 because it was “obvious decision.” The MPSF provided that necessary home when its school’s conference, the Mountain West Conference, didn’t sponsor women's lacrosse. 

“The legacy of the MPSF shows the legacy of lacrosse,” said White.

And that legacy has trickled down to the high school and youth levels, she added, which has fed the growing talent base back into the western NCAA teams. 

As its website reads, the MPSF has been the “incubator for emerging women's sports and a safe harbor for sports impacted by conference realignments.”

“It’s really given a national vantage point of what the West Coast can be,” said Giglio. “It’s opened up people’s eyes.”

Said Eubanks: “They supported the sport at the beginning stages, helped us get on our feet and pushed us to the future.”