With college lacrosse teams entering the homestretch of the regular season, conference standings are starting to take shape as teams fight to earn spots in their respective league tournaments.
In Baltimore, local lacrosse fans will have the opportunity to witness four of the nation's top teams compete when the Big Ten men's tournament descends upon Johns Hopkins' historic Homewood Field May 5-7.
Kelsie Gory, assistant director of athletics game operations and senior woman administrator at Johns Hopkins, has been tasked with overseeing event. After the season started in early February, Gory has been out in the community working with representatives from the conference's six programs to raise fan awareness.
"Really, one of my biggest focuses is how can we do both the sport of lacrosse and this tournament justice and make it a great event for the student-athletes," Gory said. "I have been really trying to get the community involved, raise the awareness of what we have going on, get the student-athletes out in Baltimore and just spread the word. [Lacrosse] is just so huge here in Baltimore -- we're the mecca of lacrosse."
The inclusion of bluebloods Johns Hopkins and Maryland into the Big Ten has given the six-team league instant credibility since its formation two years ago. Just last year, the longtime rivals reached the NCAA Final Four after navigating through a grueling conference slate. Between them, the Blue Jays and Terps have combined for 52 Final Four appearances and 11 national championships in their storied histories.
So when the conference picked the Terps and Blue Jays to host the first two editions of the four-team conference tournament, it seemed like a no-brainer. Last year, a total of 4,369 fans came out to Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium during the semifinals and finals to witness Johns Hopkins claim the inaugural championship.
Gory said she has used that number as a benchmark for this year's ticket sale numbers but expects the process to pick up once the tournament's teams are set at the end of April. Her goal for the tournament final is to sell out Homewood Field's 8,500-seat stadium, regardless of which teams advance that far.
"Fans and players will be able to come out and experience Homewood Field, which is like the Yankee Stadium of lacrosse," Gory said. "So I think that's a pretty cool atmosphere for lacrosse fans and for all the Big Ten schools to be able to come to Homewood Field and experience that moment at such an historic place."
One of the most highly anticipated matchups that could go a long way toward fulfilling Gory's lofty aspirations is a clash between Hopkins and Maryland. The Blue Jays and Terps will close out the regular season at Homewood Field April 30, setting the stage for a possible rematch the following week with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at stake.
Gory said that storyline just adds another layer to what already promises to be an action-packed weekend for the conference.
"Given the two traditions the programs have, I think that would be an amazing way to culminate the season for both programs and the conference," Gory said. "That would be pretty cool for either side, depending on how the rest of games turn out, and just a pretty cool story because of that tradition."
If the current standings remain in tack at season's end, Maryland, Rutgers, Johns Hopkins and Penn State would earn the top four seeds, respectively. The Terps (3-0 Big Ten record), Scarlet Knights (2-1) and Blue Jays (2-1) appear to have a stranglehold on the top three spots with two conference games remaining each. Penn State (1-2), meanwhile, is still working to hold off Ohio State (1-2) and Michigan (0-3) for the fourth and final spot.
The continued emergence of Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan has greatly enhanced the league's reputation around the nation as one the strongest from top to bottom. In fact, Gory said there's a possibility all four participants in this year's conference tournament could end up seeing each other at some point during the NCAA tournament.
"A lot of lacrosse commentators are saying the Big Ten could potentially get three or four teams into the NCAA tournament, which would rival the powerhouse ACC," Gory said. "Big Ten lacrosse is growing just so quickly, not only in numbers, but in strength of teams, too, so we really hope people want to come out and see those great teams play at Homewood Field."
Looking ahead to the future, the site of the tournament for next season hasn't been determined. But Gory said league officials welcome the idea of continuing to have the schools within the conference serves as hosts.
"When the coaches meet after this year's tournament for the league's coaches meetings, that will decide the fate of the tournament for the years moving forward," Gory said. "I know doing a rotation between the schools is something that has been discussed, and I believe that is something that will be decided after this year's tournament."
For more information about the tournament and to purchase tickets,