Ned Sanders, the head coach of the West Kildonan Wolverines lacrosse team, sums it up best when he says, "We don’t just retool, we reload."
The Wolverines are two-time defending champions of both the city and the province, but they entered this season with a vastly different roster from a year ago. Eight starters, all of whom were all-star calibre players, graduated last spring.
But that hasn’t slowed down the Wolverines. The team is 2-0 to start this season, and as far as the players are concerned there’s no reason they can’t add another championship or two to the school’s collection.
"We seem to just keep attracting the best athletes," Sanders said. "The whole league keeps getting better and better. Guys are coming out of high school and playing on the provincial team, and some are getting university scholarships."
The Wolverines often add some of the area’s top midget (and even major junior) hockey players — gifted athletes who quickly pick up many of the game’s similarities to hockey.
Nick Lynam, a Grade 12 defenceman who plays for the AAA Winnipeg Thrashers, picked up lacrosse last year and fell in love with the sport.
"A couple of hockey guys convinced me to try it out," said the Riverbend resident. "I loved it. I had a great time, and I’m glad I had another year to play. It’s a great program."
While this is a transition year for the program with so many new faces in the starting lineup, Lynam said the team still expects to compete for a title.
"I’m proud to see how we’ve started," he said. "Everyone was doubting us, but we’ve got a really good group here. The older guys are taking control and the young guys are working hard."
The key, Lynam said, is the way young players are developed even if they don’t get a lot of playing time. That eases their transition to the starting lineup, and keeps the team atop the standings.
That development wasn’t able to take place as much as Sanders would have liked this spring because of the weather. Usually, the high school league holds an exhibition tournament prior to the regular season, but it was cancelled this year because of how late the snow melted.
The lack of practice time also meant no tryouts for the Wolverines, who only were able to work on their games during a couple of indoor gym sessions prior to the season opener.
"There’s still some rust flying everywhere," Sanders said. "None of the teams are putting their best foot forward yet."
The league will play its usual number of regular season and playoff games, Sanders said. And the coach expects everyone to be back on form before long.