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Growing pains: Rockdale girls lacrosse alums return to coach team seeking breakout year

l-r Playing defense is soph Brittany Lord and soph Lauren Baldwin is playing offense in this scrimaging practice for the Rockdale Lacrosse team.

l-r Playing defense is soph Brittany Lord and soph Lauren Baldwin is playing offense in this scrimaging practice for the Rockdale Lacrosse team.

CONYERS -- Although Rockdale High School has fielded a girls lacrosse team since 2003, the Lady Bulldogs' brief history has been a series of stops and starts.

The team -- which is comprised of student-athletes from both Rockdale High and Rockdale Magnet School -- has yet to win more than two varsity games in the last five seasons and struggles to develop new talent as it continues to go through some considerable growing pains.

"We're a young team," said Casey Robuck who, along with Nicole Richardson and Vanessa Burch, serves as co-coach of the 19-player team. "We have three seniors and two juniors so there's not a lot of experience but the change we've seen in the girls has been tremendous. We're very proud of our team."

Facing the likes of Pace Academy, St. Pius X, Marist and Greenbrier, Rockdale has endured a 1-9 campaign thus far this spring, but the tide is turning in a new direction with the inclusion of Robuck (who played on Rockdale's inaugural lacrosse team in 2003) and Richardson (another Rockdale lacrosse alum who went on to play at St. Andrews University in North Carolina) to the sidelines.

"I played my junior and senior years, and during my freshman year in college I helped (former Rockdale coach) Heather McCormick," Robuck said, who taught at Pine Street Elementary but has since left teaching. "I just felt called back to the program. They hadn't really had a consistent coaching situation since Coach McCormick left and when I heard they might close the program, I got in touch with the athletic director and asked if I could coach."

Rockdale is one of about 70 girls lacrosse programs playing under the auspices of the Georgia High School Association. Most schools hail from Atlanta or the northern half of the state, and the sport is catching on in schools throughout the country. USALacrosse.org reports that lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport in America, with an estimated 230,000 high-school participants.

Robuck said when she got her first look at the team during the summer, she was pleased with what she saw.

"We had a Saturday morning scrimmage and I noticed the potential in the girls," she said. "I knew what they really needed was some direction. We face a lot of really challenging teams but there are also other teams that play on our level, teams we know we can hang with."

One of the roadblocks to building a high-school program is having some sort of feeder system, like recreational leagues, junior programs or middle-school teams. And for the growth the sport has experienced from coast to coast, lacrosse still seems to be a hard sell in Rockdale County.

"It seems like just about every team we play has lacrosse in rec leagues or on the junior varsity level," said booster club president Randy Baldwin. "There's not a lot of depth, and sometimes not everybody can be there. But I'm impressed with the coaches' knowledge of the game and they've got a great deal of enthusiasm."

A former high school soccer and baseball coach, Baldwin added that a key to growing the program is getting fellow students interested and team members have been diligent in that effort.

"The girls are the best marketers of the program," he said. "And the girls need to get involved in other programs away from school. Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt host lacrosse camps and they're starting a lacrosse league in Snellville that would provide a lot of good game experience. And as the team gets better, the crowds will get bigger. And then some folks will see it and said, 'Hey, I might want to try that.'"

The Lady Bulldogs hosted Tri-Cities -- whom they defeated earlier this season -- earlier this week at Reid Memorial Stadium and have pivotal home games on April 16 against Dunwoody and April 23 against Greenbrier. Games begin at 5:30 p.m.

Robuck, who has also served as a lacrosse referee and owns and operates Be The Change fitness boot camps, agreed with Baldwin that players need to gather more experience beyond their high school games.

"This is our first year and it's one of the first times they've had somebody coaching who knows the sport," she said. "We've got a lot of things we'd like to do. We hope to set up an alumni camp so former players can come back and work with our team. And we're encouraging everybody to get involved in summer and fall leagues. We need that kind of experience for this program to reach its potential."

Robuck said this has been a difficult season that she has enjoyed and added she can envision a flourishing Rockdale lacrosse program in the near future.

"This has been hard, because Nicole and I are so competitive," she said. "But we've loved every minute of it. We've grown as a team and the girls are happy and confident. We've got some talented juniors and we can be a competitive team next year if we do some summer and fall work."

For more information on the Rockdale girls lacrosse team, contact Randy Baldwin at 404-697-4801.