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Summer youth lacrosse program opens

Pictured are the players that formed the first ever third/fourth-grade lacrosse team in Hastings last summer. In the front is Jackson Gergen. In the middle row are Laynee Connell, Erik Iverson, Tyler Evans, Morgan Sweeney and Eli Schaffer. In the back are Josh Speak, Jaden Axelrod, Derek Smith, Erik Hokans, Jaydan Carranza, Joey Siewert and Jeffery Gegen. Not pictured are Sam Schill, Jason Williams and Grant Heselton. The team's coaches are Branson Nickel and Terry Iverson. (Submitted photo)

In Hastings, students in grades seven through 12 have the option of playing lacrosse through the Hastings Lacrosse Club. Until last year, however, younger kids didn't have anywhere to try the game out, giving them very little time to develop their skills before trying to make the varsity high school team.

Terry Iverson was at one of those varsity games two years ago, and even though he had never seen the sport played before then, he knew that it was something he wanted younger kids to at least have the opportunity to play.

"I don't think there's another sport that compares to it on grass," he said.

So he started working to organize a summer youth team for kids in third and fourth grade, searching out parents and kids who wanted to give the sport a shot. It wasn't easy, since many young athletes already had plans for other summer sports, he said. But his was a no-pressure approach.

"Just give it a try," was his pitch.

If the kids couldn't make every practice or every game, it was no big deal. It was okay if other sports schedules took priority. His goal wasn't to take athletes away from other sports; he just wanted to get a few kids on the field - the game would take care of the rest.

"We just wanted to give them the opportunity to try it," Iverson said.

Once they got to play, he had no doubt that they would be hooked. The team's coach, Branson Nickel, felt the same.

"It's infectious," Nickel said of the game. "It gets in you."

"Once you play, it's hard to understand playing anything else."

Nickel connected with Iverson after Iverson's wife posted an update on Facebook about her husband's efforts to start a team. Nickel's wife saw the post and passed it on to Nickel. He had played lacrosse in high school in Evanston, Ill., but hadn't expected to have another opportunity to get involved in it again.

"It was excited," he said. "Just to have the chance to take part in the sport again."

His biggest worry, he said, was regarding the team's ability to compete. In its first year, he didn't want it to earn a losing reputation, because that might discourage others from joining. His fears were proved unnecessary.

The team's first game against Rosemount ended tied at 0-0, Iverson said. After that, however, the youth team had a winning season, with a 5-4 record. Iverson attributes the team's success to two things: the fact that they were able to get some good athletes on the field and Nickel's ability to teach the game.

"He did a great job," Iverson said.

Nickel was encouraged by comments he heard from other coaches - especially coaches from the powerhouse teams such as Lakeville and Eagan. They were impressed with the level of talent Hastings was able to put forward, Nickel said, especially considering last season was their first.

This year, Iverson and Nickel are expecting to triple their numbers for the summer program, with potentially two fifth- to sixth-grade teams and another third- to fourth-grade team. A spring fifth- to sixth-grade program is already under way this year, but this summer will be the first time that age level will have had a summer season.

Practices for the summer season will begin in late May. The regular season ends in late July. Last year's team played teams across the south metro area, but this year they'll play in the east metro. The farthest they're expected to travel is to Stillwater.

The youth teams through sixth grade are co-ed, at least for now. Girls and boys lacrosse are different, Nickel said, so any girls who want to play at the earliest levels will learn boys lacrosse.

"But we'd rather have girls play boys lacrosse than not play lacrosse at all," Nickel said.

As a part of the Hastings Lacrosse Club and US Lacrosse, the Hastings teams emphasize sportsmanship, safety, teamwork, hard work and fun - all the things a sport should teach.

"Having a kid who plays a variety of sports, I really appreciated that," Nickel said.

Registration for the summer youth teams begins April 10. Parents can register online at or attend an in-person registration event from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 10, or from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 13. Both registration events will be held at the American Legion. The registration fee is $140. Before registering, you will need to acquire a US Lacrosse membership number. The fee for US Lacrosse is $25 and is processed online through

For more information, look for the FAQ sheet on the team's website.