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Anna Pavelko joined the Springfield lacrosse program in 2012 because she wanted to prove people wrong.
"Everyone thought I was like too girly (to play lacrosse)," Anna said.
According to data collected by the National Federation of State High School Associations, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport at the high school level. Between 2007 and 2012, 750 schools added boys' teams and 638 schools added girls' teams in the United States.
Lacrosse pits two teams of players who use long sticks with small nets attached at one end to throw and catch a hard rubber ball. Teams score by throwing the ball into the opposing team's goal.
Doug Ambrose created Springfield's program - which is affiliated with the Springfield Park District - three years ago with his son Dylan after they moved to the area from the East Coast, where lacrosse is one of the most popular sports.
Anna, a Springfield High School sophomore, first heard about the program that offers teams for middle and high school students from her mother.
Anna will be only one of two girls expected to play on the high school team, which has 25 players. There are no girls' lacrosse teams in Springfield, but girls who want to play lacrosse can play on the boys' team. Those in charge of the program hope to eventually have enough girls to start a girls' team in Springfield.
Although it may seem like playing on a team that is mostly males is difficult, Anna said her teammates are very accepting.
"The guys on our team help us a lot. If we do something wrong, they help us do it right and they're not critical about it," she said.
In addition to playing defense in lacrosse, Anna plays soccer and tennis. She said lacrosse has helped her with soccer by bettering her speed, strategy and teamwork skills.
"I enjoy that our lacrosse team is like a big family and we don't let other teams try to intimidate me or any of the other guys. (We) support each other," she said.
She hopes that other girls will use the lacrosse team as an opportunity to grow.
"I think (lacrosse) would be a good experience for them to get out of their shell and see what they can do and show other people what they can do. Just show them that they're strong and not like what guys think they should be doing."
Rochester sophomore Savannah Burris also plays on the team. She started a year ago, after learning about Anna's participation in the program.
"I've always wanted to play (lacrosse) so I thought I'd give it a shot," she said.
Like Anna, Savannah will be playing on the high school team this year.
One of the things that Savannah likes about her team is that she meets people from all over the Springfield and the surrounding areas.
"It's nice to meet other people from different schools, because there's a lot of a people from Chatham and Springfield schools and Williamsville, and Jacksonville," she said. "A lot of people ask what kind of sports do you play, and when I say lacrosse, not very many people play lacrosse (in the area) - so it's cool to get a reaction from them."
When Savannah first started lacrosse, she struggled with maneuvering the stick and learning to "take a hit." But she's been able to handle the challenges that come with playing defense and front midfield positions.
Director of the high school lacrosse team Michael Stannard has been working to try and recruit girls and wants to have enough for both a high school and middle school girls' team next season.
Stannard has used social media and passed out fliers to the Springfield Youth Hockey Association Girls Varsity Hockey team. Additionally, some team members try and recruit girls.
He's also talked with some of the local high schools' athletic directors about getting more teens to join, but said in an email that the athletic directors might be worried students will quit varsity or school-sponsored sports in favor of lacrosse.
"The Illinois High School Association is considering making lacrosse … a sanctioned varsity sport," Stannard said. "Some of the athletic directors said they are worried about costs for travel and other team-related costs since most of the (lacrosse) teams in Illinois are in the Chicago area."
Stannard has also sought help at the college level. The Illinois Wesleyan University women's varsity lacrosse coach Lindsey Rosecrans said adding a girl's team in Springfield "will help to provide a bridge between the lacrosse hotbed areas of Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis."
"Our women's lacrosse staff here at Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington), along with our athletes on the women's lacrosse team, will be helping area youth teams to grow and develop by providing coaching clinics, players clinics, and offering camps at Illinois Wesleyan," she said.
Many colleges field, or have added, women's lacrosse teams, such as the University of Illinois and Illinois State. Northwestern University in Evanston has won seven NCAA women's lacrosse titles since 2005.
Because of this growth, Rosecrans said that female athletes have many options for lacrosse as far as college scholarships go.
Anna said that lacrosse is something she wants to continue in college, even though she's only been playing for two years. She's even attended lacrosse camp at Illinois Wesleyan.
Savannah also plays volleyball, basketball, and track - though volleyball is her main interest.
However, she thinks that one of the things unique to lacrosse is how it draws on skills from multiple sports.
"A lot of my friends, actually, when I tell them that I play lacrosse, a lot of my friends say, 'Oh, that sounds so cool, I wanna join,'" she said, "So I feel like if we did have a girls' team, there would be a lot of success."
Amber Campbell is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Columbia.