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Harry and Sophie Sankey are used to relatively relaxed drives along the East Coast to watch their son Joey play for the North Carolina lacrosse team.

Sunday, however, was different. The Sankeys left their suburban Philadelphia home at 3 a.m. and drove to the Baltimore airport, catching a flight to Indianapolis to watch Eric and his teammates play in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal match against Denver. They had not been able to find a direct flight from Philadelphia to Indy.

Still, they saw no reason to complain.

“Gorgeous weather,” Sophie said during halftime. “Beautiful stadium. Even if it was raining, we’re covered, so we’re happy. Love to be here.”

Harry Sankey noted there was no danger of sunburn underneath that Lucas Oil Stadium roof.

“I think it’s great exposure for the sport,” he said. “Apparently, Indianapolis outdrew Maryland (which hosted two quarterfinal matches on Saturday), so it shows the growth of lacrosse, not only among the youth, but among adults, too.”

The day didn’t end well for the Sankeys and the rest of the North Carolina faithful after the Tar Heels lost to Denver. But it did appear to be a good day for lacrosse, both locally and nationally.

A crowd of 7,749 watched two exciting contests decided by the same score: Denver rallied from a six-goal deficit to beat North Carolina 12-11 on Eric Law’s goal with 13 seconds left. Duke’s David Lawson scored with 2:16 remaining to lead the Blue Devils to a 12-11 victory over Notre Dame.

“We were overwhelming pleased with the turnout,” said Anthony Holman, the NCAA’s associate director of tournaments and championship administrator for lacrosse. “I wouldn’t say it was a risk, but it was a calculated chance that we took, recognizing we had not had a quarterfinal off the East Coast.

“But we think it’s important for college lacrosse and our NCAA brand to expand and show these are quality young men and good schools. To be able to elevate and put that on more of a national platform is important to us.”

Indiana’s growing lacrosse community got a chance to hang with some of the sport’s best. Fritz Prine, whose son plays on a travel lacrosse program with the Carmel Dads Club, said the players got to watch Notre Dame practice on Saturday and get autographs afterward.

“The parents hope it’s like going to Disney World for the first time for them,” Prine said. “We hope that’s the way they can actually remember it because this is such a huge opportunity. Who gets to do this?”

The top levels of Lucas Oil Stadium were curtained off and nearly the entire crowd sat behind the team benches — on the opposite side of the ESPNU cameras. Attendance was nearly twice that of the quarterfinal games held at Maryland, which drew 3,939, but those games also were beset by rainy weather.

“Even though it’s not as large of an event as the (men’s basketball) Final Four, it’s still important for us that it’s a positive experience for the student-athlete,” Indiana Sports Corp. president Allison Melangton said. “The feedback has been great.”

The players and coaches said they were impressed.

“It was pretty awesome that we could come off the East Coast and play in front of a crowd like that,” Duke goalkeeper Kyle Turri said. “That’s probably one of the largest crowds we’ve played in front of this season.”

Duke coach John Danowski noted the Blue Devils played a match in Wisconsin this season against Marquette and drew about 4,200 people.

“For a guy that grew up on Long Island, which was supposed to be the center of the lacrosse universe … I can tell you no one dreamed of coming to Wisconsin or Indiana to play,” Danowski said. “It was so well received. The people could not have been nicer. The setting was spectacular.”

Denver coach Bill Tierney said he gathered the Pioneers together before the NCAA tournament and told them he wanted to make a trip to Fishers — the hometown of Garret Holst, a midfielder for the Pioneers — so they needed to win their first-round match against Albany to accomplish that. They didn’t make it to suburban Fishers this weekend, but downtown Indianapolis was more than satisfactory, he said.

“You pull up and you see this beautiful stadium and you could not hear a thing on our bus, which is like not hearing anything in a kindergarten,” Tierney said. “It’s usually loud and noisy and stupid, but they were just in awe.”

Added North Carolina coach Joe Treschi: “It was terrific. It was fantastic for the sport. I was at Ohio State for 11 years before coming back to UNC and coming back to the Midwest and seeing the excitement and the way we were taken care of was tremendous, from the hotel to the NCAA being right here. Hopefully, it can continue.”

Melangton said she isn’t sure if the Sports Corp. will pursue another major lacrosse event. Holman said the NCAA isn’t quite ready to move the national semifinals and finals off the East Coast yet, and even if it was, Indianapolis might not be a good fit. They are played on Memorial Day weekend and staging them at the same time as the Indianapolis 500 could prove difficult.

But that doesn’t mean Sunday was a one-time shot, Melangton said. A youth tournament and clinic held in conjunction with the event were hugely successful, she said.

“The local lacrosse community has told me it will advance Indiana lacrosse to be able to watch players at this level,” Melangton said. “We are always trying to tune into what the community wants to do and a lot of the lacrosse community has said, ‘This is great, let’s do it again.’ ”

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