ENGLEWOOD — For more than 30 NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse teams, it was an opportunity to get out of the cold, do some team bonding, take a trip to the beach and play some meaningful games under good weather conditions.
For the people running the tournament, it’s a chance to grow the sport and introduce it to a new generation of people in an area that appears ripe for development.
The 23rd annual Spring Fling pits some of the best small college women’s lacrosse teams in the country against each other, many of them from the Northeast, where weather conditions have not been conducive to playing (though they have and do).
The event is being played mostly at Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park, with a few games at Lemon Bay High School sprinkled in for good measure.
Gene DeLorenzo, who puts on the event every year, said the two-week event helps teams get ready for conference play and keeps the young women out of trouble.
“College kids have a bad reputation that is well-earned. They go to Cancun and get drunk. Here, the ladies are on athletic teams and doing something healthy,” DeLorenzo said. “Coaches use this to build bonds and camaraderie and as a recruiting tool.”
The event started in 1997 in Panama City with 32 teams. The event moved to Palm Beach County in 2004, where it reached its high point in 2006 when 116 teams competed and got national TV exposure.
The tournament left there in 2015, spent two years in Manatee County before coming the Englewood in 2017.
DeLorenzo, who also owns his own company GKD Sports Vision, said he would like to put on a girls clinic in the summer for kids to help grow the sport locally.
“There is untapped potential in this area. There aren’t many lacrosse programs in the area, just in Port Charlotte,” DeLorenzo said. “Some girls from Lemon Bay’s track saw it and seemed very interested.”
Had they stayed, they would have seen a great game between Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., a game that saw Nazareth take an 8-3 lead before the Bears mounted a furious comeback, cutting the lead to 10-9 before running out of time.
Erica Adams, Bridgewater State’s head coach, said her team has made the Spring Fling an almost annual ritual.
“This area has always been good to us ad we’re happy to come and get out of the snow,” Adams said. “We want to be sure the team is tight knit and build chemistry in closer quarters.”
Adams said the beaches are a great draw, and the teams try to use their time in Southwest Florida to enjoy the fun it has to offer.
For Tracy Lian, Nazareth’s coach, the trip gives her team a chance to not have to play in leggings, wool hats or in 10-degree weather like it has had to.
“We’re looking to see improvement in our young team and we saw that today. Coming here lifts our spirits. And playing in western New York it’s been single digits and we’ve bene outside, By the end of practice the girls can’t feel their hands or toes,” Lian said.
Emma Robinson, a freshman who scored four times in the Golden Flyers’ win, was tired of the snowy practices.
“The weather was an adjustment, but I think we handled it well. I expected it to be hotter,” Robinson said. “We’ve been hanging out at the hotel and will be going on a sunset cruise. We’ve been split up into rooms we didn’t choose and have to live with who we were picked with and it’s created strong bonds.”