By Martin Boyce
Local lacrosse had one of its strongest showings in recent history at the Ontario Lacrosse Festival, with 8 teams earning places on the provincial podium, headlined by 3 medals for the Nepean Knights in ‘A’-level competition.
“We kind of exceeded expectations,” signals Knights director of player development Matt First, whose club added 3 more medals in ‘B’ play. “To have 6 is quite a significant step forward. The other big step forward was the caliber of the medals that we could win.”
On the heels of ‘B’ Nepean gold in boys’ Tyke and girls’ Bantam and silver in girls’ Midget ‘B’ and boys’ Intermediate ‘A’ at the Aug. 4-13 Ontario Lacrosse Festival in Whitby – where the Gloucester Griffins also collected ‘B’ silver in boys’ Peewee and Novice along with a semi-final boys’ Bantam appearance – the Knights took home bronze in both Bantam and Midget ‘A’ a week later.
This marks the first time the club has ever won multiple ‘Final Six’ medals in the same year and the first ‘A’ tournament provincial medal since 2001.
“I think it’s a consequence of the overall development of the program but also it’s having played at the ‘A’ level for 3 or 4 years,” Firth indicates, noting the Knights Bantam boys will have at least 2 more years to keep inching toward gold. “You don’t just show up at ‘Final Six’ and start winning. You have to learn how to win at that level because all the games are tight and all the teams are capable of winning.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the Tyke ‘B’ champs who are still just beginning their lacrosse careers.
“They were extremely excited and they had worked extremely hard,” highlights team coach Eric Kay.
The 7- and 8-year-olds were nervous heading into their first game, Kay notes, but relaxed as they went along once they understood it was just another tournament.
“Our goal was to make them have fun, and be competitive,” he underlines. “That way, when lacrosse is over they don’t just put their stick in the garage and take out the hockey stick for another 6 months.”
Nepean also earned its share of the spotlight at the national championships, with Isiah Moran-Weekes helping Team Ontario to Bantam gold.
“There was about 3 minutes left in the game and I was looking at the clock and looking at the score and I was like, ‘Wow I’m actually going to win,’” recounts the 14-year-old Mother Teresa High School student, Ottawa’s lone Team Ontario champion. “It was a really good experience. The coaches and all the guys were really nice and it was fun to play with them there.”
While Nepean’s success this season is encouraging, Firth warns there are always other factors in play when competing for championships that can’t simply be improved upon from a year-to-year basis.
“Your team has to have a bit of luck, it has to be healthy, it has to be on and it has to be sharp,” he says of playing at provincial or national level tournaments. “It’s a bit of a war of attrition because you play 6 games in 3 days so you have to be resilient and have mental stamina.”