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Lacrosse newcomer headed for world championships

The Brunswick club will be represented in both the Australian women’s and men’s national teams

Natasha Rooney is the first woman from Brunswick to make a national lacrosse team.

Mark Phillips

NATASHA Rooney took up lacrosse for the first time just five years ago, but this September she will represent her nation at the sport’s world championships. 

Rooney, 33, a founding member of the Brunswick Lacrosse Club’s women’s team, has been selected as a defender for the Australian squad that will compete for the World Lacrosse Women’s Box Championships at Utica in upstate New York. 

She is the first woman from Brunswick to make a national team and will join Brunswick men’s player Darren Ricketts at the world championships. 

Box lacrosse is a fast-paced, high-contact indoor version of field lacrosse played by six people a side, usually on a covered ice hockey rink. 

This year’s will be the sixth world championship for men – where Australia is ranked ninth in the world out of the 28 countries competing – and the first for women, with Australia one of 10 nations to take part. 

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For Rooney, who grew up in Brunswick, it has been a rapid ascendancy from lacrosse novice to national representative. 

Having previously played indoor and outdoor soccer and netball, her introduction to field lacrosse was almost accidental after she spotted a sign calling for players to help form a women’s team at the Brunswick club’s home ground of Fleming Park. 

“I lived on Blyth Street and I would go running in the park and I saw that they were building a team so I thought I’d come down. I’d seen lacrosse being played there while I was growing up, but there never seemed to be any girls there or any women so I never really pursued it. 

“And I was looking for a new sport because I wanted to try something different, so I was like, Okay, I’ll try lacrosse. And I really, really liked it. 

“The Indigenous Americans who created the sport, they have a lot of inner spiritual significance with it. 

“They call it the medicine game and I kind of found it to be similar because I found when I played lacrosse, I just didn’t think about anything, it was a nice break from everyday life and I could just go on the field and not have to think too much.” 

After learning the basic skills of field lacrosse – the women’s stick is flatter than men’s, which has a deeper pouch, and it is a non-contact sport – Rooney has been a fixture of the Brunswick women’s team since then.  

She played box lacrosse for the first time last year. The indoor version of the sport is usually played in Australia during the off-season for field lacrosse. After representing her state at the national championships in February – which Victoria dominated – she was named as a defender in the 23-person squad for Utica in March. 

Natasha Rooney in action.
Natasha Rooney in action in a game for Brunswick. Photo: Kane Mannix (@sportlaxoz)

What has made Rooney’s selection for the national team even more remarkable is that she only played one season before the sport was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not fully resume again until 2022. 

Her growth as a lacrosse player has surprised her as she never had shown much aptitude for sports that require hand-eye co-ordination, but just making the squad is an achievement even if she doesn’t get much game time in Utica. 

“I put in quite a bit of work to get there because obviously I don’t have the years of experiences most people on the team do,” said Rooney, who has completed a PhD in Anthropology and teaches at Deakin University. 

“But I really like box lacrosse as a sport. It’s a lot more fast paced and full on, so it’s just really pleasing to be able to get as far as I could with it. And now training on the Australian team, it’s great.” 

Darren Ricketts. Photo: Kane Mannix (@sportlaxoz)

For Brunswick’s other national representative, Darren Ricketts, this will be his second world championships as a member of the Australian team. 

For the last world titles in 2019 in Canada, Ricketts did not make the initial squad but came in as a late substitute after several players withdrew with injury. He ended up playing four matches. 

“This second time around it means a bit more because I’ve been picked for the main squad straight up,” he said. 

The world championships will be held from September 20 to 29 at Utica, a town of about 65,000 people near the border of the US and Canada. 

While the US, Canada, Haudenosaunee and England are world powerhouses in men’s box lacrosse, ninth-ranked Australia is expected to acquit itself well in this year’s championships. Of the other three teams in its group pool, only Slovakia is in the world top 20. 

“We’re pretty keen,” Ricketts said. 

“This will be our strongest team yet and they’re talking about getting us a medal” 

Darren Rickett launches an attack in a match for Brunswick. Photo: Kane Mannix (@sportlaxoz)

An attacking midfielder in field lacrosse, 33-year-old Ricketts’ playing career in the sport has been more conventional than Rooney’s. His father also played the sport, and it was tagging along with him to a match in Brunswick when he was 13 that led him to join the club even though he lived in the eastern suburbs.

He played all his junior lacrosse for Brunswick, then transferred to Chadstone and played seven seasons of State League with MCC before returning to Brunswick five years ago. He has also been a regular in the Victorian field and box lacrosse teams for many years. 

Ricketts first played box lacrosse a couple of years before the 2019 world titles. 

“Lately I’ve been really enjoying box lacrosse and leaning towards that a bit more,” he says. 

“There’s a lot of technically intricate things you’ve got to learn, it’s more aggressive and it’s faster and more intense and I find it more exciting to watch in some ways.” 

Lacrosse will be reintroduced as an Olympic sport in the compact sixes format for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and while Rooney will probably be too old herself by then, she is hopeful her example could inspire another young Brunswick player to follow her path. 

“We’ve got some girls coming up and they’d be great candidates,” she said. 

The Brunswick Lacrosse Club will celebrate its 30th anniversary this weekend, with a reunion of past players at its new clubrooms in Fleming Park. 

President Ann Lovett said the club had about 80 registered players and this year was fielding two men’s, one women’s and two junior teams. 

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