The unofficial start for the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) season has arrived, and as usual, the first big weekend of the year takes place in Southern California. Two major events, located about 90 miles apart, kick off on Friday and include participating teams from across the country.

In picturesque Santa Barbara, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the annual Shootout is the largest WCLA event of the season, with 25 Division I and 20 Division II teams playing across three days. Eight fields are utilized simultaneously at the Santa Barbara Polo Club.

The Santa Barbara field includes 12 teams ranked among the preseason Top 20, including No. 3 BYU, No. 13 Virginia and No. 14 Texas in Division I, and No. 3 Denver, No. 7 Air Force, and No. 8 Nevada in Division II.

“We love going to the Santa Barbara Shootout to be able to see all the other teams from around the country,” said Kyra Traino, senior defender at Air Force. “We get a feel for our team dynamic with these games before we play teams in our league.” 

Down the coast in Los Angeles, the seven-team Golden State Invitational is a significantly smaller event but includes many of the WCLA’s traditional heavyweights. The third-year event features five teams ranked among the Division I preseason top seven, highlighted by No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 2 Michigan, and No. 5 UCLA, the tournament host.

“The GSI is always one of the weekends we are most excited for during our season,” said UCLA’s returning All-America midfielder Sophie Kamanski. “It is such a fun weekend of competitive lacrosse and we always look forward to playing highly ranked and well-established teams. It sets a competitive tone for the rest of our season.” 

Michigan made the switch from the Santa Barbara Shootout to UCLA’s GSI in 2018. The Wolverines will play four games in Westwood, all against California-based teams.

“We want to play the best teams, and preferably, the West Coast teams,” said Michigan coach David McKinnon. “This is a great way to get a very quick idea how some of the best teams match up. We use it as a benchmark for a number of things when we get back to practice the following week.” 

In total, split between the two locations, 12 of the 16 Division I teams and four of the 12 Division II teams that qualified for last year’s WCLA National Tournament descend upon Southern California this weekend. The competition is great, and of course, the weather helps make the sale. 

“We love to take any opportunity we can to ditch the snow here in Colorado for some California sun,” said Air Force’s Traino.

The WCLA features 79 Division I teams and 137 Division II teams that compete under the US Lacrosse umbrella. The 2020 season will conclude with the D-I and D-II national championships in Round Rock, Texas, May 6-9.