(CALGARY, AB) – They had a slow start, but once the Ontario midget girls lacrosse team got going, it was lights out.
Windsor native Reese Stewart and an elite squad of girls, aged 15 and 16 from Ontario, overcame an 0-2 start at the Canadian Female Nationals to take the gold medal game on Saturday evening against a highly skilled squad from host Alberta.
“Winning gold was different,” explained Stewart after she arrived back in Windsor. “When we won, everyone just started jumping up and down. We all hopped off the bench and ran over to our goalie and piled on top of each other.”
After a come from behind 7-5 win, the girls were no doubt excited and relieved.
“Everyone was really happy,” Stewart said. “Some girls were crying and others couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces.”
Reese is the second player from the Windsor Warlocks girls program to participate in the national championship. Coach Lloyd Land’s daughter Jaime played in the same tournament last year.
“I got a lot of advice from my coaches [Land and Barry Garant],” confided Stewart. “Lloyd told me to have fun and that making this team is a huge accomplishment.”
Reese took a lot away from the experience.
“Playing for Team Ontario was really fun and challenging. I made a lot of new friends and made memories that will last a lifetime,” she enthused. “My teammates were very talented and outgoing. We listened to a lot of country music on the bus rides to and from the game. All of us got along really well. The coaches would dance to the music that we played, some more gracefully than others.”
The Team Ontario girls maintained a fairly busy schedule through the week of competition, but were able to appreciate some downtime.
“We had a day off on Friday so we went to Banff to hang out,” Stewart recalled. “We went on a gondola ride up one of the mountains. We took a lot of pictures and there were chipmunks everywhere. One of the girls on the team got a chipmunk to eat right out of her hand.”
On July 9, the girls went head-to-head with their two biggest threats; British Columbia and Alberta.
BC beat Ontario 3-1 in the morning game and Alberta won 8-5 in the afternoon. The losses, no doubt, allowed the girls to bond a bit better and test their mettle against in the face of adversity.
The next day, Team Ontario gained a measure of revenge against Alberta, beating them 5-3 at noon. Later that evening, Ontario crushed Team Nova Scotia 13-2.
Thursday was the final day of the round robin and Ontario kept on riding the wave of momentum.
Early on, the locals picked up a much needed 6-2 win over British Columbia to give themselves a shot at the final. In the evening game they again crushed the Maritimers, this time 7-0, to clinch first place in the grouping and an automatic berth into the final.
After a day of rest, Team Ontario was back at it again Saturday afternoon for the gold medal game against British Columbia.
The BC Girls had an early run, finding scoring from Kaila Barteski and Raachel Beaulieu, before Ontario’s Chelsea Campbell replied. Addison Bradley made it 3-1 BC before the period could expire.
In the second period, Ontario fought hard to get back in the game. Maddy Moloney drew them within one before Campbell knotted the match at three. Not to be deterred, BC’s Hope Pay regained the lead for the westerners, midway through the period.
Then came the tide.
Clare Johnston lit the lamp for Ontario only ten seconds into the third. She was followed by a go ahead goal from Camryn Gallagher before Frances McKnight blasted one more to extend the lead to 6-4.
BC started to push for a comeback halfway through the frame when Olivia Ohlmann scored to bring her girls to within one. Their efforts were shut down when Cassidy Neill bent the mesh late in the game for Ontario, putting the match out of reach and clinching the gold.
Brianna Rino was the golden goalie, while Jenna Phillips took the loss for BC.
After Team Ontario celebrated their victory, Reese had a long journey ahead of her.
“I had to leave Calgary early in order to catch my flight at one in the morning,” she said. “I slept on the plane ride home and on the car ride.”
Stewart was in a hurry because her midget team, and the intermediates who she plays up with, were in the Zone 7 championships in Sarnia that weekend.
With bragging rights on the line, Reese made it back just in time.
“I had to get changed in the car because my dad and I arrived at the arena right as the ball was dropping for the intermediate game.”
Despite the intermediates falling to the Wallaceburg Griffins later that day, Reese was able to taste victory again as she and her midget teammates defeated the Sarnia Pacers 7-0, to hoist the Zone 7 championship plaque.
“The whole team was very excited to play and we all really wanted to win,” Stewart explained. “[We] felt very focused and ready to play, which is a good feeling to have before a big game. It felt good.”
But, Stewart had one bone to playfully pick with the event coordinators.
“It would have been nice if [Zone 7] would have given out gold medals instead of bucket hats. But, the team was more happy that we won; and that we got bucket hats.”
It all worked out in the end. And, hey, they got bucket hats.
Provincial championships loom for Reese Stewart and the Windsor girls’ teams. The midgets were awarded a berth into A Division, where they will square off next week in a round robin against Owen Sound, Six Nations, and Peterborough for the chance to play for Ontario gold.
The intermediate girls are in the B Division of their provincial tournament, where they will face Thunder Bay, Kingston, and Kitchener-Waterloo in the round robin.
Reese and a good number of her midget teammates split time with the intermediate squad.
Both tournaments run August 2 to 4 in Whitby.
“Our team is 110% ready for Provincials,” she stated. “Now that we won zones, I think the team’s confidence has gone up and that we’re ready to face whatever is going to be thrown at us.”