Lauren Gilbert Paving the Way for Young Lacrosse Players in Oregon


Lauren Gilbert picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time when she was in first grade. She hasn’t put it down since.

Her road to becoming one of the top players in women’s lacrosse started with the kids’ clinics and youth teams of Lake Oswego Youth Lacrosse, in her hometown just outside of Portland. Oregon was far from one of the sport’s traditional so-called “hotbeds” on the East Coast, but that didn’t keep Gilbert from developing into star at one of the country’s top programs.

Now a senior attacker at Northwestern — where she’s already cracked 100 career goals and is tied for the fourth-most goals (47) among all players in the country this season — Gilbert hopes to help other players from her home state and the rest of the Pacific Northwest find their ways to the college level, too.

Gilbert will appear on a US Lacrosse Zoom call on Wednesday, April 14, at 6 p.m. Pacific for a Q&A with young players centered on encouraging youth athletest that they can make an impact on lacrosse no matter where they are from.

“I was in the first wave of Oregon lacrosse players that really went on to play at some of these big-time schools, which is a big step in and of itself. So now it’s about continuing to get that exposure that inspires the next generation of girls,” Gilbert said. “That’s what can make a big impact at the youth level: Seeing players that are able to go on and have success.”

It was Gilbert’s early experience with Lake Oswego’s youth programs that helped plant the seeds for her love of the game. But there weren’t many local players she could look up to who had made the leap from Oregon to the sport’s highest tiers.

Those who wanted to play at the next level were often recruited by programs in the region — the University of Oregon has the state’s only Division I women’s program — or elsewhere on the West Coast, but even that list of players was often small enough to count on two hands.

Yet Gilbert was determined to add her name to it, making her way through the youth ranks and eventually onto the varsity roster at Lake Oswego, the town’s public high school with a reputation as one of the best girls’ lacrosse programs in Oregon.

She made an impact almost immediately for the Lakers, starting as a freshman on a team that won the 2014 state championship and eventually finishing as the school’s all-time leader in goals, draws and ground balls.

When it came time to start the college recruitment process, Gilbert knew she didn’t want to limit herself to the standard group of West Coast schools that recruited West Coast players. Without a deeply established club scene in her home state, she had to take parts of the process into her own hands — long Google searches to find the best camps to attend, commutes to Seattle to play for a select team to increase her chances of being seen by big-time programs.

She got on Northwestern’s radar after attending their summer elite camp in 2014, and in three years’ time, had traded her Lake Oswego blue for Northwestern purple.

Gilbert came in with a slightly different background and experience — some of her teammates had grown up playing lacrosse 24/7 with their club teams, but there wasn’t the landscape for that in Oregon — but she became an instant contributor, playing 17 games as a rookie midfielder before switching to attack for the Wildcats’ run to the Final Four in 2019.

Her career with Northwestern is far from over — the No. 2 Wildcats are 10-0, and have eyes on another trip to the Final Four — but Gilbert’s already thinking about ways to continue to grow the game in her home state.

After her first season at Northwestern, she returned home to work with the high school girls’ teams at 3d Lacrosse, one of the top club programs in the state, and saw the value of and need at the youth level for experienced coaches with relevant, recent experience in the sport.

“A lot of it is getting people out there that really understand the game and can start teaching it, because being able to learn the game at the youth level the right way is so integral in being able to to ultimately develop into a player that can get recruited at the top level,” Gilbert said. “That’s probably the next big thing that needs to happen, getting people out there that can funnel kids into high school with a better, fuller understanding of the game.”

And the list of Oregonians on college rosters is growing. Gilbert’s younger sister, Katy, is a freshman midfielder at Stanford. Riley Hertford is a Tewaaraton Award Watch List honoree for USC, playing alongside West Linn (another Portland suburb) grad Natalie Byrne, while Lake Oswego native Ella Smith is a freshman midfielder at Vanderbilt.

With more ways to watch, follow and absorb the game online than ever before, Gilbert hopes that the lacrosse world can start to shed its stigmas of what it means to come from outside the traditional “hotbed” states.

“Some of the best players are not from these areas that they consider ‘hotbeds.’ The more that girls can see that, and the more the next generation can embrace lacrosse as a sport that can be played at a high level anywhere, the more we can erase these stigmas,” Gilbert said. “I think that would be really what changes the future of the game in a great way.”

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