Winona Lacrosse club connects to sports tradition

Lacrosse, despite its violent hits and flying sticks, has a deep culture rooted in Native American history.  It’s popularity as a high school sport has spread around the country and it has become bigger in Winona.

Photo taken by Cory Salwey

The Winona Area Lacrosse Club is dedicated to bringing the sport back to its former glory and being competitive while doing so.

The club has been around since 2014, started by a few high school students at Winona High who wanted to start playing a sport that nobody had heard of, but had a high crossover connection to hockey.Eventually, people took notice and made it into board-run club to start a team.

The club has had many people come through, as players can play for one to eight years. Many coaches have also come through helping the teams improve and the club grow as a whole.

Among the first coaches was Jack Kielty, Jack played lacrosse in high school and was recruited to play for Winona State University for the short stint the college had a lacrosse program. Jack came on to the field as a young coach, still in college studying to be an EMT. He decided to coach because he wanted to be around the game more after an abrupt end to his college career. Jack coached players such as Matt Schoh, who is currently a senior playing football for University of Minnesota Moorhead, and Laken Macal, a freshman playing football for University of Wisconsin Stout, and other Cotter Alumni, Henry Riley, Josh Salwey, and Andrew Arnold. Jack said that he enjoyed his time working with everyone and the time he had while with the team.

 “I loved the success of the twelve guys that we started with and the memories are some of the best I ever had,” Kielty said.

Jack spoke about the early times of the club and the vision going through.

“The discipline of and focus and dedication was awesome to the point where we were able to create a younger team and have many parents join without the usual failure that most people experience at first.”

Photo by Kathy Khalstorf

Jack was a very good coach that many players enjoyed even though he had a tough coaching style. He was very straight forward with his view on how a practice or a game went, sometimes a little too tough for some. Although he was not always the favorite he always had something good to say and would listen to the players, helping them with all aspects of the game. Even though he is no longer coaching, he has had a lasting impact with the club and often will help the players, coaches, and board of directors with anything they need because of his love for the game.

“I love the way the sport can show immediate results of hard work, whether it be in school, jobs, or any other aspects of life that normally could be overlooked,” Kielty said.

Jack said one of his favorite parts of the sport is coaching something that is not familiar to many people.

The team is also committed to keeping the historical significance of the game by helping encourage people to learn of it and what it meant to the Native Americans.

The current head coach Josh Vandeburg is a descendent of the HoChunk tribe of Wisconsin and told me about the significance it has to him.

“For my family it has been a way of connecting to our heritage through the sport. We have been able to connect with other kids in our community, and also with relatives in our HoChunk Family,” said Vandeburg.

Both of Josh’s kids played for the club, Cotter graduate Zoe Vandeburg, and WSHS sophomore Charlie Vandeburg. Though Josh had been aware of the sport he didn’t get around it until Charlie began playing and did not start coaching until a couple years ago as he lead the team for his first season. The impact coaching has changes many people including Josh who talked to me about the impact it had on him:

Photo by Kathy Kahlstorf

“It has impacted me a lot from watching my kids play and being able to be around a sport that I did not have the privilege to play when I was younger.”

The sport itself is very fast and requires a  ton of running. The field is he size of a soccer pitch and the security of the ball forces players playing both defense and offense to get back to either side of the field no matter what the plan is.

Lacrosse is not an easy sport and requires hard work and dedication to become good at it. However, picking up is not as difficult as it would seem, as it mostly comes down to getting familiar with the relatively awkward motions of the stick work.

The hardest part is the conditioning and physicality of the sport that does not stop for breaks for substitutions or plays, it is a consistent play unless stopped by timeouts, penalties, or scoring. Hockey players tend to be some of the more popular multi sport athletes of the group but football players have the physicality needed and basketball players thrive on defense and offense with the plan and plays used to create open space and open shots.

The Winona Lacrosse Club is dedicated to helping all who want to try the sport feel safe, secure, and comfortable with the seemingly violence of the sport. They teach the rules well to keep kids from doing things that could end up with injury and also try to teach ways to recover and build themselves as athletes to help in sports other than lacrosse. They spare no expense of the safety of the players and do well to provide only the best helmets and to give advice for buying the best equipment that not only will be safe, but also be relatively inexpensive and keep it’s original performance throughout the use of the equipment.

Anyone interested in it could very easily pick up the basic aspects and be able to compete with other teams within their first year. The club is dedicated to allowing anyone try to play regardless of gender, size, or athletic ability.