Augustana athletic director Josh Morton won’t blame you if your knowledge of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is lacking.

The most populous city in the state, Sioux Falls was also named the healthiest city in the United States by “Best Life” magazine. Chartered in 1856 on the banks of the Big Sioux River, Sioux Falls is now a bustling business community with a population of about 270,000 people.

Augustana University certainly takes advantage of its surroundings, enticing potential students with business opportunities and internships they might not find at other institutions. Augustana will soon have another incentive to recruit student-athletes — women’s lacrosse.

Last week, Augustana announced it would house the first collegiate lacrosse program in South Dakota, regardless of division or affiliation. It’s a continuation of the university’s strategic plan — Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030.

Augustana will compete at the Division II level, and Morton said conversations around conference affiliation have started. He hopes his Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference peers will look into adding the sport in the future, too.

“We’re always looking at adding opportunities for women,” Morton said Tuesday. “We added women’s swimming six years ago. We’re adding acrobatics and tumbling next year. We vetted out different options.

“I can see what [lacrosse] has done across the country. It started on the coasts, and now it’s coming for us in the middle.”

Morton admitted there isn’t much familiarity with lacrosse within the athletic department. “We’re all jumping in and learning,” he said.

Hiring a coaching staff will, of course, add some much-needed knowledge to the department, and Morton plans to pick their brains to learn more about the sport he acknowledged is great for spectators. That’s part of the draw, in his mind.

“We always look at things that attract people,” he said.

Youth and high school lacrosse exist but aren’t necessarily prevalent in South Dakota. Sioux Falls Lacrosse is marketed as the area’s only youth program, and Augustana has plans to partner with the organization to help grow together.

Lacrosse is growing in nearby markets, though. Minnesota, South Dakota’s neighbor to the east, has a burgeoning lacrosse scene, and Denver isn’t far away, either. There’s certainly talent to be had in the Midwest, and Augustana is hoping to become part of the equation when it comes to opportunities at the next level for high school athletes.

Athletic excellence isn’t a foreign concept to Augustana, either. The Vikings have won four Division II national championships in four different sports since 2010 — women’s cross country (2011), men’s basketball (2016), baseball (2018) and softball (2019). The football team is ranked No. 14 in the latest AFCA Division II Coaches Poll and No. 18 in the latest D2football Top 25 poll.

“We’re the elite school in this town,” Morton said. “It’s because of our city.”

Lacrosse will begin competition in the 2023-24 academic year. In total, there are currently 114 Division II women’s lacrosse programs and 524 programs across all three divisions. Women’s lacrosse will be Augustana’s 22nd varsity team and third team announced since 2020.

“It’s going to be a little daunting,” Morton said. “All of us got into college athletics because we want to make an impact on student-athletes. I was in our volleyball coach’s office the other day, so they can teach me some of the sets and plays. I can’t wait to sit down with whoever our lacrosse coach is one day so they can teach me the sport.”

Author: Kenny DeJohn