Peterborough is currently the centre of the universe for the fastest sport on two feet as it plays host to the world’s largest-ever lacrosse event.
But Orillians are front and centre at the massive event - and playing key roles at key levels as 23 nations compete in three simultaneous championship tournaments: the Under 19 World Cup, the Under 19 Canadian National Championships and the Under 18 International Lacrosse Festival.
Several young women from Roy Micks's Orillia Lady Kings Under 19 team were key components on the Team Ontario U19 squad that captured their fourth straight national championship this week.
This year, Team Ontario, the defending champ, elevated seven players to the national team, including a goalie, three defenders, two mid-fielders and an attacker – all of whom are playing key roles. That left some big holes to fill on the provincial squad.
“Our team faced some challenges this year to fill some key spots in the roster and to do so with some younger and relatively inexperienced players," said Orillia's Pat Morris, coach of the U19 team
In the end, the newcomers fit in perfectly. But it did not happen overnight or by chance.
The team underwent extensive team building (as they have mostly known each other as opponents) assisted by the Ontario Provincial Police.
Exercises included obstacle courses simulating injuries to teammates where players were required to dress wounds and carry teammates on stretchers, obstacle courses wearing tactical gear, rappelling from significant heights to overcome fear together and individually as well as discussions on teamwork, sacrifice and the ability to adopt and perform required roles in a team environment.
The bonding concluded with a discussion with members of the Indigenous Policing Bureau, where Orillian and OPP Staff Sergeant Marcel Beaudin led a process known as “smudging” where players used sage to purify their thoughts, their words, their actions – and their lacrosse sticks – prior to competition.
Team Ontario started its tournament with some exhibition games, defeating Scotland and the Czech Republic.
The talented team then went undefeated from Aug. 4-6, beating Nova Scotia, Alberta (who they narrowly edged in last year’s championship), British Columbia, and Quebec before facing B.C. again in the final. This tournament also featured Team Haudenosaunee, a team of Indigenous players from across Canada.
The gold-medal game against B.C. was a statement game for Team Ontario and the Orillia contingent.
While B.C. went up 1-0 on the first two draw possessions, Team Ontario took over and never looked back, earning an impressive 15-7 triumph. It was the fourth consecutive national championship for Team Ontario.
“The girls executed the offensive sets perfectly and used excellent judgments on attack,” said Morris. “We had very few turnovers, our key players performed their roles and our defence was spectacular.”
While centres such as Oshawa have dominated the lacrosse world in Ontario, Orillians played prominently on this team and in this championship.
Hannah Morris, an Orillia alumni returning from Division 1 of the NCAA in the Atlantic Coast Conference, was selected as co-captain and played a major role as leader and contributed significantly to the offence with four goals in the final.
Paige Stachura, a major force as a mid-fielder for Orillia for over 10 years and now off to Division 1 of the NCAA in Canisius College, was a powerhouse on the draw circle that led to possession on Team Ontario's offence.
Kennedy Lynch, entering Grade 12 and a long-time impact player in the Orillia Lady Kings program, was a stalwart defender in man-on-man and zone play, leading Team Ontario to the lowest goals against in the tournament.
Kassidy Morris, 16, working closely with her sister Hannah (they are both left-handed attackers) led the team in goals scored, tallying five in the final.
Orillia players also won two of the four MVP awards in the tournament.
It should be noted that Orillia’s Jerica Obee was also on Team Ontario and was a returning player from last year’s national championship. Unfortunately, the offensive star suffered an ACL injury in provincial play and could not play. Obee is off to St. Bonaventure in Division 1 of the NCAA.
To round-off the Orillia connection to this tournament, Team Ontario was presented its gold medals by former Commissioner of Women’s Lacrosse, former Team Ontario Coach and Team Canada coach and player, Jo-Anne Stanga - an Orillia native who helped start the girls' program in Orillia.
Meanwhile, Team Canada entered the festival as the reigning Under 19 world champion having defeated the United States by a slim one-goal margin in 2015.
Led by Canadian and NCAA Division 1 Coach Scott Teeter, the team does not have any Orillia players. But it does feature seven players from last year’s Under 19 national champion, Team Ontario.
Canada has lost one game on its World Cup journey - to the incredibly strong American squad. If they continue to win, Canada will get another shot at the U.S. rivals in the finals.
The International Under 18 lacrosse festival continues and many Orillians continue to be involved.
Team Ontario's Under 17 team is currently undefeated and is led by Kassidy Morris and Orillia goalie, Kayleigh Aitken. Oshawa-based Team 51 features local players Rachel Shaver and Emma Torkoff, United States Elite features Orillia Lady King Kaiya Roberson, and Orillia’s Kaya Maracle is an alternate for the World Cup Haudenosanee team and is playing for Western New York in the Under 18 competition.
With 23 countries participating in the current competitions, the future of lacrosse is strong internationally.
"With the skill and commitment of the players noted above, the future looks bright for Orillia and the Lady Kings as well," said Morris.