College lacrosse groups reexamine women's game's rules after injury

Two organizations that help oversee women's college lacrosse are reexamining the game's rules and safety protocols after a Yale attacker was seriously injured last month in a game at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The apparent cross-check, which is illegal in women's lacrosse but was not called a penalty, left Yale sophomore Taylor Everson with a ruptured kidney and severe internal bleeding that caused her to be hospitalized for two weeks.

"The ball went down, and I went to go grab it and I shot it and a girl kind of came in my blind spot and cross-checked me in the side," Everson told ESPN. "It felt like knives were being stabbed into me."

In the wake of Everson's injury on Feb. 25, the Collegiate Women's Lacrosse Officials Association sent video clips of cross-checks to game officials in hopes of cracking down on the illegal maneuver.

Leaders of the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association told member coaches about Everson's injury during a meeting Monday evening and reminded them of the points of emphasis in the rulebook, including one aimed at stamping out cross-checking. The coaches were also asked to submit their suggestions for potential rule changes to make the game safer. Those proposals could then go to an NCAA committee for consideration.

"I think this injury caught everybody by surprise," IWLCA executive director Liz Robertshaw told ESPN. "You don't hear about this kind of thing often."

The new push to make women's lacrosse safer has reignited a long-running debate about the nature of the game, which, unlike men's lacrosse, is considered a noncontact sport. While men's lacrosse allows body checks and shot-blocking, the women's game does not. Yet, as women's lacrosse has grown, many top teams now play an aggressive style that often results in body contact. In addition, aluminum and composite sticks allow players to throw the ball at higher speeds.

"The game has absolutely evolved since the time period when I played," said Robertshaw, who was an All-America lacrosse player at George Mason University in the late 1990s. "The athletes are stronger. The sticks have more capabilities. The game has gotten faster in many ways."

After several players suffered shattered orbital bones, Robertshaw said, USA Lacrosse mandated nearly 20 years ago that players wear protective goggles. But efforts to require helmets or the kind of padding that might have prevented Everson's injury have met resistance.

"A lot of traditionalists in women's lacrosse would say, 'It's a different sport than men's lacrosse. We don't allow checking. We don't allow defenders to put themselves between the shooter and goal,'" said Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. "'To make them wear all the extra equipment is going to make them play like the men, and we don't want that to happen.'"

The classification of women's lacrosse as a noncontact sport can also affect the type of emergency medical staff assigned to games. There were no ambulances or emergency medical technicians at the Stony Brook game -- although university officials said two physicians staffed the game -- and the medical personnel did not initially recognize the severity of Everson's injury.

An NCAA spokesperson said the presence of an ambulance or EMTs for any sport is determined by the host school or conference office as part of its emergency action plan, as well as local governmental requirements. But as a practical matter, Robertshaw said, many schools assign EMTs and ambulances only to games involving collision sports, including football, hockey and men's lacrosse.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research said serious injuries, including those to the organs, brain or spinal cord, remain extremely rare in women's lacrosse. But when they do happen, they can go unrecognized.

Former Stanford player Taylor Scornavacco, 23, suffered a severe kidney laceration after an opponent cross-checked her in 2019. Scornavacco sensed that she was seriously hurt, but her team's trainer could not pinpoint her injury. When she went to the locker room to change, she noticed blood in her urine. Scornavacco spent a week and a half in the hospital, and another three months convalescing at a friend's home. It took her nine months to fully recover.

"The game has gotten a lot more physical," Scornavacco said. "The game moves so fast. I used to hit the ground six or seven times in a game. It is just what happened."

Everson concurred. Through the years, she has suffered several ankle injuries and three concussions, which prompted her to wear a helmet on the field. But she said she never experienced anything like she did at Stony Brook, which like Yale, boasts one of the top-ranked women's lacrosse teams in the nation.

The game, she said, was intense and physical. When she was hit, the overwhelming pain left her in tears, she said, and she struggled to breathe.

In an email to Stony Brook, Everson's mother, Carolyn Everson, said that about 90 minutes elapsed between her daughter's injury and the time when an ambulance took her to the Stony Brook Trauma Center, which is less than a mile from the school's lacrosse field. (Carolyn Everson is a member of the board of directors for the Walt Disney Company, ESPN's parent company.)

Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said the severity of Everson's injury initially went unnoticed by the two physicians he said staffed the game because there was no foul called on the play and the game was not stopped. Only later did a Yale trainer ask that a doctor examine Everson, he added. The doctor then recommended that an ambulance take Everson to the nearby hospital for further evaluation. Heilbron said an ambulance arrived within 15 minutes of being called.

The hospital admitted Everson to its intensive care unit, where she remained for more than a week before being transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Everson lost 15 pounds and is now at home working to regain her strength. The future of her lacrosse career is uncertain, as doctors have told her that it will take her about nine months to return to full health.

Going forward, Everson said, she hopes to play again. But she wants the rules and officiating to change. "We are kind of at a crossroads," she said. "We can't keep going down this road where people are getting hurt, people are getting cross-checked. We're getting to a point where the game is getting dangerous, and the refs and lacrosse associations are not ready to handle it."