College lacrosse teams rethink rules for women’s game after injury

Two organizations that help oversee women’s college lacrosse are reviewing the game’s rules and safety protocols after a Yale forward was seriously injured last month in a game at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

An apparent crosscheck, illegal in women’s lacrosse but not called a penalty, left Yale sophomore Taylor Everson with a ruptured kidney and severe internal bleeding that hospitalized her for two weeks.

“The ball went down and I went to get it and I shot it and a girl came up in my blind spot and side-checked me,” Everson told ESPN. “It felt like I was being stabbed.”

After Everson’s injury on Feb. 25, the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Officials Association released video clips of checks against game officials in hopes of eliminating the illegal maneuver.

Leaders of the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association told member coaches at a meeting Monday night about Everson’s injury and reminded them of the emphasis points in the rulebook, including eliminating peer review. Coaches were asked to submit suggestions for possible rule changes to make the game safer. These recommendations may then be forwarded to the NCAA committee for review.

“I think this injury took everyone by surprise,” IWLCA executive director Liz Robertshaw told ESPN. “You don’t hear that often.”

The new push to make women’s lacrosse safer has sparked a long-running debate about the nature of the game, which, unlike men’s lacrosse, is considered a non-contact sport. While men’s lacrosse allows for body checking and shot blocking, the women’s game does not. However, as women’s lacrosse has grown, many top teams are playing an aggressive style that often results in physical contact. In addition, aluminum and composite sticks allow players to throw the ball at high speeds.

“The game has definitely evolved since I’ve been playing,” said Robertshaw, who was an All-American lacrosse player at George Mason University in the late 1990s. “The athletes are stronger. The sticks have more capabilities. The game has become faster in many ways.”

According to Robertshaw, USA Lacrosse mandated players wear protective eyewear 20 years ago after several players suffered orbital fractures. But efforts to require a helmet or some type of padding that could have prevented Everson’s injury have met with resistance.

“A lot of traditionalists in women’s lacrosse say, ‘It’s a different sport than men’s lacrosse.’ We do not allow inspection. We don’t allow defenders to put themselves between the shooter and the goal,” says Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Athletic Equipment Standards. “Putting them on all the extra equipment makes them play like men, and we don’t want that.”

Women’s lacrosse’s classification as a non-contact sport may also affect the type of emergency medical personnel assigned to games. There was no ambulance or emergency medical equipment at the Stony Brook game, but university officials said two doctors were on staff at the game — and medical personnel initially did not recognize the severity of Everson’s injury.

According to an NCAA spokesperson, the presence of an ambulance or EMT for any sport is determined by the host school or conference office as part of its emergency response plan, as well as local government requirements. But as a practical matter, Robertshaw said, many schools only assign EMTs and ambulances to games involving collision sports, including football, hockey and men’s lacrosse.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, serious injuries, including organ, brain or spinal cord injuries, are extremely rare in women’s lacrosse. But when they do, they may go unrecognized.

Taylor Scornavacco, 23, a former Stanford player, suffered a serious kidney injury in 2019 after being checked by an opponent. Scornavacco felt that he was seriously injured, but his team’s trainer could not identify his injury. When he went to the dressing room, he noticed blood in his urine. Scornavacco spent a week and a half in the hospital and another three months at a friend’s house. It took nine months for him to fully recover.

“The game was a lot more physical,” Scornavacco said. “The game goes really fast. I hit the ground six or seven times a game. That’s how it happened.”

Everson agreed. Over the years, he suffered several ankle injuries and suffered three concussions, prompting him to wear a helmet on the field. But she said she hasn’t seen anything like Yale, which boasts one of the top-ranked women’s lacrosse teams in the country.

He said the game was intense and physical. When he was hit, the intense pain brought tears to his eyes and he struggled to breathe.

Everson’s mother, Carolyn Everson, told Stony Brook in an email that her daughter was injured and about 90 minutes passed before an ambulance took her to Stony Brook Trauma Center, less than a mile from the school’s lacrosse field. (Carolyn Everson is a member of the board of directors of ESPN’s parent company, The Walt Disney Company.)

Stony Brook athletic director Sean Heilbron said the severity of Everson’s injury was initially overlooked by the two doctors who officiated the game because there were no fouls on the play and no stoppage of play. Only later did the Yale coach ask a doctor to examine Everson, he added. The doctor then suggested that EMS take Everson to a nearby hospital for further evaluation. Heilbron said 911 arrived within 15 minutes of being called.

The hospital admitted Everson to its intensive care unit, where he remained for more than a week before being transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Everson has lost 15 pounds and is now working out at home to regain his strength. The future of his lacrosse career is uncertain, as doctors have told him he will need about nine months to return to full health.

Going forward, Everson said he hopes to play again. But he wants the rules and refereeing to change. “We are at a crossroads,” he said. “We can’t go down this road where people are hurting, people are checking each other out. We have reached a point where the game is becoming dangerous and the referees and the lacrosse community are not prepared to deal with it. “

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