MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The sport that keeps getting more competitive is lacrosse, and the state tournament illustrates just that.

The level of competition keeps getting better while they continue to iron out the wrinkles.

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It was sweltering hot when the state lacrosse kicked off earlier this week, when ice water became the desired drink of choice.

And there was a record setting performance — eight goals by White Bear Lake’s Matt Swanson.

“It was pretty good. I’ve never scored that many goals in a game,” Swanson said. “And it was definitely exciting. You know, I just do what the team needs us to do.”

But what you really notice is that this sport is taking shape in this state. It has matured from almost intramural, to varsity, to colleges coming in to check out the talent.

“I’ve certainly seen, first of all, the expansion of this sport. We started with just four teams, we’re up to eight teams in the state tournament. And the level of play has moved up exponentially in those eight years that we’ve been doing this,” Upper Midwest Lacrosse Officials Director Matt Dempsey said.

There are still some modifications some believe are needed to change the game, like keeping the head safe in an era where concussion awareness has changed many games.

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“In girls’ lacrosse we see a lot more concussions. I think this year at Burnsville where I’m at now I had six lacrosse concussions that were caused either by the ball or the ground, which is quite a few,” trainer Doug Nelson said. “There was an article in the [Star] Tribune that talked about concussions aren’t a real issue, but I think, you know, especially with the awareness nowadays, we need to pay more attention.”

But the growth and interest continues despite the professional team — the Minnesota Swarm — leaving town. In fact, that’s what brought Eden Prairie Coach Ryan Ward to Minnesota to play for the team.

But he says with or without the pros, the game is now established.

“The Swarm is the reason I moved to Minnesota, and I fell in love with it here, but anytime that a team moves or changes, it’s disappointing,” Ward said. “But I think lacrosse is here to stay and it will flourish regardless of the Swarm.”

And what has been established makes you think it could be a hotbed for the sport because the skilled athletes are taking to it, and the rest usually follows.

“It’s a very popular participation sport, and particularly in Minnesota,” Dempsey said. “The U.S. Lacrosse Association has mentioned Minnesota multiple times as being one of the fastest-growing areas. Also, being fairly large as well, which is when it’s really hard to keep up that growth rate of 10, 15, 20 percent a year — particularly at the youth levels.”

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White Bear Lake meets Bloomington Jefferson in the boys’ championship Saturday, and Lakeville South will take on Stillwater in the girls’ championship.

Mike Max