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Valor Christian (Colo.)  girls' lacrosse player Eliza Osburn in action against Colorado Academy (Colo.)

Weekly Cover: Rise Up, Rockies

February 21, 2024
Matt Hamilton
Valor Christian Athletics

DEVON WILLS REMEMBERS VIVIDLY the beginning of the girls' lacrosse boom in her home state of Colorado.

A hockey player turned lacrosse fanatic when her friend’s father, who owned a Lax World retail store, introduced her to the game, Wills was looking for something to which to aspire — a glimpse at her potential.

She found what she was looking for attending University of Denver lacrosse games. The Pioneers men’s and women’s lacrosse teams were beginning to compete with the top programs in Division I. Jamie Munro had led the men’s program in its transition from Division II. It wasn't long before growing local interest would compel DU to construct the first lacrosse-only facility in the country,  Cathy Reese would have the Pioneer women competing at an NCAA tournament level and Bill Tierney would succeed Munro, bringing the NCAA championship trophy west for the first time in 2015.

Colorado already had a rich lacrosse history with the Vail Shootout, successful Division III and collegiate club teams and turn-of-the-century talents like Mike Law and Christian Cook. But DU was fast becoming a dream factory.

“Those were the big events,” Wills said. “Every year, you’d go and the stands were a little bit fuller. They have that big hill underneath the bell tower that had more and more people on it. The men’s game began to grow, but the women’s game also followed suit.”

Wills played goalie and fielded Division I offers while starring at Colorado Academy. She made more than a handful of trips to the East Coast to put herself on the recruiting radar. She eventually took her talents to Dartmouth, leading the Big Green to consecutive final fours and the 2006 NCAA championship game to launch a Hall of Fame career that included three gold medals with the U.S. National Team.

No matter where the sport took her, Wills wore Colorado on her chest and in her heart — and on her stick. “I wanted to prove that everyone in Colorado could play and that it wasn’t just hype,” she said. “It wasn’t just a matter of a lower level. Colorado kids can play, too. I had Colorado on my stick and I had various area codes throughout the year on my helmet. It was always in the back of my mind.”

Wills’ home state is still top of mind this year, as she became the first member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame from Colorado. Now the head coach at Harvard, she spends time recruiting players from Denver and surrounding areas — something that fills her with pride.

Over the past 20 years, Wills has seen the lacrosse scene in Colorado expand and become one of the biggest outside of the East Coast. Not only is interest in girls' lacrosse growing, but the state is producing top-level recruits at a higher frequency than ever before.

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Eliza Osburn with the 2024 U.S. Women's U20 National Training Team
Osburn is one of 42 players — and just five current high school athletes — on the 2024 U.S. Women's U20 National Training Team. She's also the lone representative from Colorado.
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Colorado has the top women’s lacrosse recruit in the Class of 2024 in Valor Christian's Eliza Osburn and three of the top 14 prospects with Colorado Academy's Charlotte Corkins and Cherry Creek's Charlotte Morton joining Osburn on the Inside Lacrosse list traditionally dominated by players from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

There's a growing presence of Coloradoans on the U.S. Women's National Teams as well. Osburn plays for the 2024 U.S. Women's U20 National Training Team. Colorado natives Camille Johnson, Samantha Hughes and Betty Nelson starred for the 2022 USA Select U18 team.

“We're getting our own sense of style,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s super fast in Colorado, and the level of play and the pace of it is just getting so much faster every year.”

A North Carolina commit, Osburn is a right-handed middie who can do it all. In her first three seasons at Valor Christian, she poured in 144 goals and 29 assists while finishing more than 70 percent of her shots. She was one of the first recruits in her class to commit.

Osburn’s success is not a total surprise, given she has two college lacrosse-playing siblings. Her brother, Truman, played at Tampa and her sister, Tess, had 41 points as a freshman for Marquette. Both Tess and Eliza Osburn were products of Team 180, a club program founded in 2004 as Wills and the Denver program began flourishing.

“Of course, there were great players that came before them. But when I look back, it was my sister’s Team 180 2022 team that started to pave the way for our club,” Eliza Osburn said. “The two years after them, we just had more and more success. I was incredibly blessed to play on a club team with extremely talented players – most of whom are playing at not just the Division I level, but at top programs.”

Osburn, like Wills some 20 years before her, still has to make trips East to play in some of the nation’s top tournaments. However, her teams carry just as many top recruits, and they’re winning games against some of the nation’s best club teams.

The Colorado grit? Osburn certainly has it, and she carries the same Colorado pride with her wherever she plays.

“So many times growing up and playing in tournaments back East, teams and coaches would discount us because of where we were from,” she said. “They were shocked when we would come out and actually win. There’s nothing like being the underdog and then proving yourself to an unbelieving audience.”

Wills shared that same vision for her home state, and she thinks Colorado is already a hotbed. She can tell a Colorado lacrosse player from any other — and she can’t deny she has a soft spot for them on the recruiting trail.

“You can tell when they're from Colorado, just how they play, how they walk, the whole swagger,” she said. “I love it. I love driving to my neighborhood and seeing goals. It's like, ‘Wow, this is a common theme here.’”