The men's and women's finalists for the 2018 Tewaaraton Award were announced Thursday night. While the lacrosse community knows this annual honor well, those outside may not, which is why you often see “the Heisman of lacrosse” noted after mentioning the award.

It makes some sense that most people are just starting to learn about what it is. Lacrosse is just starting to pick up popularity across the nation, and the award has only been around since 2001 (compared to the Heisman, which has been around since 1935).

So, if you're not familiar with the Tewaaraton, here’s almost everything you need to know about the highest individual honor in college lacrosse:

The name

Lacrosse is one of the oldest sports in North America, originally played by Native Americans. They believe it was a gift from the creator to help bind their communities together.

“It’s a game that Native Americans played in times of war and times of peace as a way to, kind of, honor the creator,” said Maryland's Taylor Cummings, the first and only three-time recipient of the Tewaaraton from 2014-16.

Maryland's Taylor Cummings is the only player to have won the Tewaaraton three times.
Maryland Athletics
Maryland's Taylor Cummings is the only player to have won the Tewaaraton three times.
When the University Club of Washington, D.C. decided on the award's name, it seemed natural to link the trophy with the roots of its heritage.

Tewaaraton (pronounced deh-wa-al-la-don or teh-war-a-ton) is the word for "lacrosse" in Mohawk language. The Iroquois Nation is believed to be the founders of the sport.

“[The members of the club] reached out to many resources, which led them to the name Tewaaraton,” said Jeffrey Harvey, the chairman of the Tewaaraton Foundation.

He explained that they had to receive permission from the Mohawk Nation Council before officially adopting the name.

The winners

Again, this is the award that honors the most outstanding men’s and women’s college lacrosse players. While the Foundation sets the criteria for the award, it also puts together a committee of lacrosse’s top coaches who ultimately decides the recipient.

“We think it’s been an exceptional process because the coaches care about getting it right,” Harvey said.

Women’s Recipients
Year Winner Position School
2017 Zoe Stukenberg Midfield University of Maryland
2016 Taylor Cummings Midfield University of Maryland
2015 Taylor Cummings Midfield University of Maryland
2014 Taylor Cummings Midfield University of Maryland
2013 Katie Schwarzmann Midfield University of Maryland
2012 Katie Schwarzmann Midfield University of Maryland
2011 Shannon Smith Attack Northwestern University
2010 Caitlyn McFadden Midfield University of Maryland
2009 Hannah Nielsen Midfield Northwestern University
2008 Hannah Nielsen Midfield Northwestern University
2007 Kristen Kjellman Midfield Northwestern University
2006 Kristen Kjellman Midfield Northwestern University
2005 Katie Chrest Attack Duke University
2004 Amy Appelt Midfield University of Virginia
2003 Rachael Becker Defense Princeton University
2002 Erin Elbe Attack Georgetown University
2001 Jen Adams Attack University of Maryland

Syracuse’s Michael Powell was the first player to ever win the Tewaaraton twice, while Northwestern’s Kristen Kjellman was the first woman to be honored twice and the first player across both genders to win it in back-to-back years.

“When my name was announced as a winner it was an incredible feeling. Most of my goals had been team based, so this was an amazing added and unexpected recognition,” Kjellman said.

She and Cummings both mentioned that the award helped them establish some tangible credibility in the lacrosse world, so after college they were both able to help spread the game through clinics and their careers, which is another goal of the Foundation.

Men’s Recipients
Year Winner Position School
2017 Matt Rambo Attack University of Maryland
2016 Dylan Molloy Attack Brown University
2015 Lyle Thompson Attack University at Albany
2014 Lyle Thompson and Miles Thompson Attack University at Albany
2013 Rob Pannell Attack Cornell University
2012 Peter Baum Attack Colgate University
2011 Steele Stanwick Attack University of Virginia
2010 Ned Crotty Attack Duke University
2009 Max Seibald Midfield Cornell University
2008 Mike Leveille Attack Syracuse University
2007 Matt Danowski Attack Duke University
2006 Matt Ward Attack University of Virginia
2005 Kyle Harrison Midfield Johns Hopkins University
2004 Michael Powell Attack Syracuse University
2003 Chris Rotelli Midfield University of Virginia
2002 Michael Powell Attack Syracuse University
2001 Doug Shanahan Midfield Hofstra University

It wasn’t until 2014, however, that the committee awarded the Tewaaraton to a Native American player. It was also the first and only year that two players shared the trophy. Good thing they were used to sharing already.

Lyle and Miles Thompson, brothers who played for the University at Albany, both climbed up on stage to accept the honor after both brothers broke the NCAA’s long-standing single-season points record (Lyle hit 128, and Miles hit 119). They were (and arguably still are) one of the most prolific attack units in the sport's history, and are also a part of the Onondaga Nation, one of the six nations that are part of the Iroquois Confederacy.

“That year was a tough decision between me and Miles,” Lyle Thompson said. “If anything, we wanted the other to win, but [both of us winning] was really unexpected.”

Lyle explained that one of the best memories from winning in 2014 was getting to share it with his brother. And, in 2015, Lyle took the honor for the second time. Now, both brothers play in the National Lacrosse League for the Georgia Swarm.

The Trophy

One of the main goals of the Foundation is to spread the honor and heritage of lacrosse, so when creating the trophy, they wanted something that reflected that. Frederick Kail, a Mohawk native, designed and created the bronze statue of a single, un-named Mohawk player on a hexagon shaped slab of granite. The hexagon represents the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Kristen Kjellman
Northwestern Athletics
Kristen Kjellman
“The meaning behind the award makes it that much more special,” Cummings said.

While the original castings of the trophy are displayed in Maryland at the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, replicas are given each year to the recipients.

The Ceremony

“The Tewaaraton Award Ceremony is a must-experience for every lacrosse fan,” Harvey said.

Each year, the ceremony is held in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., in attempts to educate all those who attend on the history of lacrosse.

“That’s one of the coolest part of the awards,” Lyle Thompson said. “The honor where the game comes from.”

Anyone can purchase a ticket and attend. Past winners said having their coaches, family, friends and teammates there made the moment all that more special.

“It’s a team award with an individual’s name on it,” Cummings said.

The 2018 ceremony will be held on May 31 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.