Another weekend of CUFLA (Canadian University Field Lacrosse Assocation) action and there’s two more losses on the slate for the local lads.
To suggest that victories might be hard to come by for the Laurentian Voyageurs field lacrosse crew this fall might be overstating the obvious.
Yet despite the steady downpour and the obvious challenges as new coach Doug Bennett and his crew hosted an impressive one-two punch in the form of the Western Mustangs and McMaster Marauders on Saturday and Sunday, the lads who suit up for the minimally funded sport are not about to throw in the towel.
There is a much bigger picture at stake here.
“It’s a game that I love and a game that I will continue to play for a long time, so anything I can do to help grow the game means a lot to me,” noted Peterborough native and team captain Matt Smith, the leading scorer in the Voyageurs lineup through the opening four games, with ten goals to his credit.
Like most of his teammates, Smith was not initially introduced to the outdoor version of Canada’s national summer sport. “I predominantly played box lacrosse growing up, but the stick skills that you learn are huge, and that’s why you see so many Canadians being successful (in field lacrosse) in the States, in the NCAA,” he said.
“You can kind of compare box lacrosse to basketball, but out here, it’s more like football footwork, in terms of getting your body in front of guys and turning them away from the net.” A defender through most of his career on the field, the third year Sports Administration student has taken on a more offensive role this fall, largely out of necessity.
“It gets tricky at times, getting up and down the field,” said Smith. “Field lacrosse can turn into a track meet pretty quickly, in terms of running the field, so conditioning is a big part of the game.”
Now in his fourth year, Walden native David Withers has also weathered the storm through some very lean years. A familiar face within the Greater Sudbury Lacrosse Association in his youth, the 21 year old Ecology major was not about to bypass a chance to pursue his passion, at the next level.
“The four years of development have been amazing,” said Withers. “I came in with a short stick in hand and they gave me a (long) pole. The learning curve for that, the first couple of weeks, was pretty steep, but once you get the hang of it, you don’t want to go back.”
“It’s almost easier to start fresh with the long pole rather than coming from the short stick in box lacrosse. The bad habits tend to carry over.” Excited with the influx of rookie talent on the team this year, Withers is nothing if not grounded and realistic.
“We just want to see growth and improvement,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll take any wins that we can get, but we’re just trying to work together. It would be nice if there was a little less hockey and a little more lacrosse, in town. But with kids trying to make the OHL, it’s tough to get them to give up their summer hockey to play lacrosse.”
Hockey, however, was not the warm weather distraction for fellow Lively resident and second year member of the L.U. lacrosse team, Riley Roy. “I played box lacrosse from about eight to thirteen years old, and gave it up to start football. Some of my friends in SPAD were on the team last year and they talked me into getting back out here.”
Having played one season of OUA football with the Waterloo Warriors in addition to his gridiron resume with both the Sudbury Gladiators and Sudbury Spartans, Roy is well equipped to provide an interesting comparison of the two very physically demanding athletic endeavours.
“This (field lacrosse) is a lot faster for a longer period of time,” he said. “Football is three or four second plays at full speed. This is four to five minute sets of going near full speed. You have to have the cardio to run a full game, especially if you don’t have a very big bench and you’re on the field the whole time.”
That reality aside, Roy is the first to acknowledge that there is clearly something of a mindset carry-over for those who relish both sports. “You cannot be scared,” he said. “That’s kind of what I brought with my football mentality. If you watch me play, I will run straight through someone to get the ball.”
“My role is to hit the guy in front of me, get the ball, and get it to the guys who can score,” he added with a laugh. “I’m not going to dangle the whole team and go for a shot.”
Rounding out the multi-sport aspect of the Voyageurs on this day is Andrew Gdanski, a Torontonian who made the trek north to pursue his interest in the Sport and Physical Education program at Laurentian.
“I started to play field lacrosse only in my second year of university,” said the fourth year student. “All the way through high school, I played rugby. I found it very difficult to pick up the defence, the way the ball is moving around the field.”
“In rugby, you’re moving down a line. In lacrosse, the field is so dynamic, there’s always a pass coming from somewhere else. You really have to keep your head on a swivel.” Like the others, Gdanski shares a positive outlook for his team, starting with the return of a Voyageur alum and local product along the sidelines.
“It’s great having Doug (Bennett), who was on the team, previously, and having that experience of what it was like back in the day,” said Gdanski. “He has the knowledge to help us. We just need to get the offense moving around a little more than it is now, getting those passes all wired in and making sure that we’re a lot more accurate.”
Not to mention that simple program awareness would certainly go a long way.
“It’s tough,” admitted Smith. “For me, personally, I came to Laurentian for Sports Administration, I didn’t come here for lacrosse. For schools like Brock and Western, you have guys going there for lacrosse. A lot of people at the school aren’t even aware that we have a lacrosse team.”
“We’re trying to break down that barrier.”
The long (pole) and short (stick) of it: Beyond the local content on the Voyageurs team, there are a small handful of Sudbury connections elsewhere in the province. To our knowledge, the GSLA is represented in CUFLA via brothers Tristan and Julien Simeoni at Western, Matt Allen at Guelph, and the North Bay and area troika of Bo and Kieran Peltier, as well as Jack Drinkwalter, all at Nipissing, and all of whom have suited up with the Sudbury Rockhounds at some point in time.
SDSSAA graduates joining David Withers and Riley Roy with the Laurentian crew are Eric Dumais, Ben Harris, James Munro and Cater Wachnuk.