Columbus is no stranger to the sport of lacrosse, but the two are about to get a little closer as the Ohio Machine, one of two new franchises in Major League Lacrosse, prepares for their first home game.
In 2010, in a move to expand the league to 20 teams by 2020, MLL officials announced two new teams would be added in 2012.
The Ohio Machine and the Charlotte Hounds are those franchises.
“We’re in a really exciting position,” said John Algie, president and general manager for the Machine. “The approach is a reasonable one, in the sense that we’ve had over a year of time to get our operations up to speed. I think seeing how that groundwork should be laid over that period of time has been very beneficial.”
The addition of the Machine won’t be the MLL’s first experience with Columbus. In 2000, Crew Stadium was a stop for the Major League Lacrosse Summer Showcase. The tour’s goal was to raise awareness about the MLL’s inaugural season in 2001. The following year, the MLL championships were also held in the state’s capital.
Algie said the lacrosse market in central Ohio was booming after the trial runs, but the league determined it wasn’t quite ready to support a team. The rest of the state hadn’t caught up.
“Fast forward to 2010 and the league did another test market game. The results were fantastic,” Algie said. “The league really had the results they were looking for. At that point, the decision was made to bring an expansion team to central Ohio, and here we are.”
Algie previously spent three years in Boston as the MLL’s director of operations where he dealt with player contracts, media officiating and oversaw the league rule book.
The league lost four teams in 2008 due to financial troubles that forced the league to form one conference.
“I think the league has done a fantastic job of weathering what was really one of the worst economic times in American history,” Algie said. “Our attendance was up to 21 percent last year as a whole.”
The league lengthened the season to 14 games rather than 12 played last season. Though there have been some growing pains, the attendance mark is the league’s best since the inaugural season in 2001.
Ohio State men’s lacrosse coach Nick Myers said he was happy to see the league bring a professional team to the state.
“The game is exploding in Ohio and across the Midwest, It’s great for our fans,” Myers said. “In the summer months when it’s not Buckeye basketball or football, it’s an opportunity to go out and see a really high level of lacrosse. I think people are going to find it’s a nice opportunity.”
The league hasn’t announced where more expansion teams could end up, but previous comments from MLL commissioner David Gross hinted that it is very interested in the West Coast, but there would have to be a plan set in place to add four teams all at once in that region, Algie said.
The league held its annual draft in January, and through the past couple months, the Ohio Machine has made some off-season acquisitions as its final touch to the spring roster. The team added former Buckeyes men’s lacrosse teammates Greg Bice, Anthony Kelly and Stefan Schroder.
The three players offer more than 15 seasons of MLL experience, which could benefit the Machine.
“I’m fired up, I’m pumped,” Bice said. “It’s just an exciting time for the lacrosse community and being a part of that and seeing how much it’s grown.”
Bice and Kelly operate a training academy known as Resolute Lacrosse in their spare time.
Bice said it was nice to have past experience with players because it makes the team chemistry come together so much quicker.
Kelly ranks fifth all-time in face-off wins in MLL history, and said he would like to grab the No. 1 spot before his career is over.
“Winning a championship is a lot more important than any personal stats,” Kelly said. “But obviously it would be a nice cherry on top to finish off that way.”
Kelly has transitioned through three teams before ending up with the Machine. The Ohio native said he’d like to call Columbus home for awhile.
“Nothing would make me happier than to finish strong and retire here in my hometown,” Kelly said.
He enjoyed traveling around the various cities he played in, Kelly said, but hopes the Machine will have a big impact on the Columbus community.
The Machine will play their first home game against the Rochester Rattlers on May 19 at 8 p.m.