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Lacrosse competition starts

Winnipeg hosts nation's best bantam teams

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Team Manitoba (right) joins Team Saskatchewan at Billy Mosienko Arena in the opening ceremonies Friday.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Team Manitoba (right) joins Team Saskatchewan at Billy Mosienko Arena in the opening ceremonies Friday. Photo Store

Canada's national summer sport will take over Billy Mosienko Arena this week as the best bantam-age (13- and 14-year-old) lacrosse players in the country compete in the National Bantam Box Lacrosse Championship.

This is the first time Winnipeg has hosted the event and tournament co-chair Donna McCartney and her committee have been preparing to welcome the 158 players and coaches from seven teams.

"We're glad we're finally at the go-ahead stage now," McCartney said. "It's been a lot of planning for the host committee and it has all come together.

"Mosienko Arena has been great in getting the arena ready for us, and we feel that we're going to be able to showcase a really great event."

McCartney hopes hosting this championship and the national junior B Founders Cup later this month will yield good results for lacrosse in Manitoba.

"It has a tremendous amount of importance to the province, in that this is the first time a minor national championship has been held in Winnipeg," she said. "We're hoping that by showcasing the event here, we can garner more exposure to people who are not involved in the sport yet and get them actively involved to grow our numbers."

Manitoba coach Lyle Sasek has coached the provincial bantam team for three years now, but playing a national tournament at home will be a brand-new feeling for him and his players.

"When you get an opportunity to play for the province against the rest of the country's provincial teams, it's an honour," Sasek said. "The players feel it as our uniforms come in and everything gears up for the tournament.

Last year, Manitoba finished in sixth place and Ontario picked up the championship. Sasek describes the competition as a two-tier system. Manitoba has about 2,000 registered lacrosse players while Ontario has 1,500 players at the peewee level alone, meaning Ontario has a much wider base from which to fill a provincial roster.

"We expect to learn a lot from the top teams, do our best and see if we can improve on our goals-against and goals-for from last year. We would hope to compete very strongly against the rest of the teams," Sasek said.

Sasek believes Manitoba has an opportunity to reach the B-side gold-medal game, but in the end, it doesn't matter where Team Manitoba finishes in the standings.

"We play all of our players. For us philosophically, it's about them getting a good experience and competing the best they can," he said.

The Manitoba coach wants his players to learn from the top teams throughout the week and to encourage them to continue developing in the game. Practice can do only so much for a player, he said.

"We can practise as much as we do, but it's in the game situation where the learning is much more acute.

"We want the kids to have a great life experience within the context of lacrosse. We hope that their passion for lacrosse grows and they can see how they've improved."

kyle.jahns@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 C7

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