(WINDSOR, ON) – Later this week, members of the Windsor Warlocks midget lacrosse club will take to the world stage and dawning the red and white with a maple leaf across their chest. As a part of the 2016 World Junior Lacrosse Championships (WJLC), taking place at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena near Hagersville, six Warlocks have earned the right to represent their nation in the World Under-17 Challenge, against a team from the Czech Republic and the Iroquois Nationals.
In contrast, the Canada East All-Star Under-19 team is playing for the crown of the WJLC. Canada East’s drawing area is encircled by the towns of Brantford, Orillia, and Clarington, with most of its players coming from the Greater Toronto Area. The Under-17 squad has put its faith in the talents of the Southwestern Corridor of Ontario, otherwise known as Zone 7 lacrosse.
The four traditional houses of lacrosse in the Southwest, Windsor, London, Sarnia, and Wallaceburg, will provide the bulk of the talent for the latter team. Windsor’s contribution will be, in no particular order, Will Cecile, Aaron Dugan, Jackman Schooley, Andrew Clark, Brayden Mayea, and Nathan Salaris.
The excitement of representing the Red and White is not lost on the hometown boys.
“You watch the Olympics [and it is] just a great feeling to see these people win for their country and you get hyped up when they win,” said Nathan Salaris last Wednesday. “It’s just great if we end up going to the final and winning gold. Words can barely even describe it. Of all the kids in all of Canada, us six get chosen to represent our own country. It’s a great honour.”
“I’ve been working hard my entire career just to play,” stated Andrew Clark. “It’s all paid off and now I get to represent my country.”
Mayea, a veteran of the Team Ontario program, felt proud and honoured to be included as a member of Team Canada.
“I worked really hard to get here,” said Mayea. “I think it will be a really great experience for me too. We’re a pretty good group of kids, together, they chose us so we’ll have a good run at it.”
Nearing junior eligibility, the Warlock boys have been raised up in the Windsor system under coach John Rosa. A former National Lacrosse League defensive specialist, Junior and Senior A stand-out, and a member of the Canadian field lacrosse national team, Rosa knows a thing or two about the game.
“The only advice I would give them is to play the way you are capable of playing and feed on the emotions of representing your country to put in that extra effort,” said Rosa. “Play the game the right way, do it honorably and humbly as a true Canadian would.”
Rosa started coaching each of the six when they were in novice, as 9 and 10 years olds. Most of them were playing lacrosse to enhance their coordination and stay in shape for hockey. They soon fell in love with the sport and in a couple short years were able to win the peewee Ontario ‘B’ provincial championship.
Since bantam, as 13-year-olds, the crew has been promoted to the ‘A’ division each year.
“We have a strong group of players and these six players are among the best in Ontario and in Canada,” stated coach Rosa. “Now they get to compete against the best players from around the world and doing so proudly representing Canada. I have always taught them to continue to improve each day. Don’t worry about trying to be better than the other teams in our zone, or the other teams in our tournaments, they need to play the right way to prepare themselves to compete with the best in the world.”
“We’ve all been together for quite some time, all playing together, and [John Rosa]’s done a really good job,” said Jackman Schooley.
The Windsor Warlocks experience has paid off for all six of these budding stars. Each one took the time to credit both their coach and the Warlocks community for where they are today.
“I feel that my time with the Warlocks has really prepared me for this. We play against a lot of the best teams in all of Ontario,” said Will Cecile.
Nathan Salaris added, “I think that if I was never with the Warlocks I would never be the player I am today. I’ve had great coaching. I’ve played with great teammates my whole life. Windsor minor lacrosse creates great players. None of us could catch balls when we first started and now we’re all playing for Team Canada. I think it’s prepared all of us. What we are going to do in that tournament; it’s going to be great.”
The familiarity of their teammates leaves the Windsor crew expecting a certain synergy with their Zone 7 brethren. Over the years, the players that have made up this team have shared the floor in both competitions and as teammates as members of the London Jr. Mustangs and BC Selects field lacrosse clubs as well as Team Ontario at the Canadian national championships.
Five of these Warlocks won an Ontario Under-17 field lacrosse championship with the London Jr. Mustangs this past spring, a team featuring many of their world championship teammates.
“Lacrosse isn’t as big in Zone 7 as it is in other zones across Ontario,” stated Aaron Dugan. “Our zone being predominant on Team Canada will help promote our zone and [get] more people playing lacrosse in southwestern Ontario.”
After playing against his Team Canada teammates in box lacrosse, and with them with the Jr. Mustangs, Dugan likes his team’s chances.
“I feel that we have some chemistry from playing against each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We can probably bring that together as one team and win a championship.”
Ultimately, the goal is gold.
Team Canada’s main competition will be Team Iroquois, with whom they open the round robin on Wednesday at the ILA. The next day they will play the Czech Under-19 team, and Thursday they will play the Hamilton Bengals lacrosse club.
After the three-game warm-up, they will go for all the marbles on Friday with a winner-take-all rematch with the Iroquois.
Jackman Schooley summed up the coming tournament best.
“It would be great to win a gold medal for your country because it’s the best country in the world and you’re playing the sport you love,” he said.