The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics searched high and low for a destination that would take its men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments from invitational status to championship level. The organization—which already has 23 championships in football, soccer, swimming, golf and more—is counting on Greenville, South Carolina, to be that spot.
Greenville will host the 2016 NAIA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Invitational May 4-7, and welcome the event back in 2017. It’s hoped the sport will grow to elite championship status by 2018. The first invitational will be played at the recently renovated Sirrine Stadium, where the May 2017 tournament will also be held.
Dustin Wilke, associate director of championship administration at NAIA, says it is a big deal for the organization, the city and the sport of lacrosse. “This is a very exciting event for us,” says Wilke. “We want our student athletes to walk away with something they can look back on as one of the highlights of their careers.”
Home to an established lacrosse community, Greenville has a history of hosting successful lacrosse tourneys run by organizations like Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association. “Greenville has proven it is able to host high-level lacrosse championships,” says Wilke, noting that fact alone was a big factor in the decision to host there. “Putting on a great event in collaboration with the city of Greenville will… display what the future of lacrosse looks like for the NAIA,” he adds.
While first-year events are challenging to predict, Robin Wright, director of sports events at VisitGreenvilleSC, anticipates the 2016 invitational will result in an estimated $600,000 direct-spend in the community based on nearly 1,000 room nights.
“My goal is to ensure this new program has a lasting legacy of the sport in the community—not just in lacrosse, but for the NAIA,” says Wright. “We’re a destination that could host any sport year-round, but we want to tackle and partner with great organizations to have quality events, not quantity,” she says.