It took years for Manitoba to capture national hardware in box lacrosse, but only 12 months after capturing the province's first gold medal, the Manitoba Midget Box team has high hopes it can bring home a third.
Four players return to the team, made up of the best 14-16 year-old indoor lacrosse players in the province, from last year's edition that made Manitoba history by capturing B-Division gold in Brampton, Ont.
Team captain Cameron Kovachik of Belair, Man., was part of that team and said he was encouraged with how this year's group is already coming together since being assembled in late spring.
"We've been working together as a team pretty well," he said at practice on Monday night as the team prepared for the Midget Nationals in Coquitlam, B.C., Aug. 15-20.
Words like "teamwork" and "organization" come up quite often when discussing the province's lacrosse program, which struck gold for a second time when the Pee Wee squad captured the B-Division title in Whitby, Ont. just last weekend.
"Lacrosse (in Manitoba) is more organized than it's ever been," said midget assistant coach John Guzej. "Coaches are learning the system a lot better. We've come a long way in the last five years."
Manitoba Lacrosse Association technical director Don Jacks was an assistant coach on the gold-medal Pee Wee team, and echoed Guzej's comment on the improving calibre of coaching.
"There's a lot of players who've been brought up in Manitoba over the past 10 years that are moving on to being coaches right now who have had a lot of success in lacrosse and I think it's making a big difference in the level of play."
Jacks admitted that Manitoba's ability to compete nationally in lacrosse is limited, as it is in all sports, simply by the smaller population base.
"One thing that's kind of kept us back is just the number of players that we have compared to other provinces," he said. "But we're expanding outside of Winnipeg now, which has been a big problem in the past."
The game's growing reach into rural Manitoba communities is already reflected on the rosters of the provincial teams. The champion Pee Wees featured five players from up north in Thompson, and five players from in and around the Sagkeeng First Nation will travel to Coquitlam with the midget squad.
"They just love it back home," said midget general manager Norbert Fontaine of Fort Alexander, a community in Sagkeeng. "Once the spring rolls around they're calling the arena asking, 'When's the ice out? When's the ice out?' so they can go shoot the ball around."
Whether the province's recent success is merely an aberration or an honest indicator of a sport on the rise across the province, midget head coach Doug Krochak feels his team has not only a legitimate shot at repeating as B-Division champs but a chance to make even more noise in 2010.
"I think we can maybe beat at least one of the A division teams this year," he said.
Fastest Game on Two Feet
Box lacrosse is an indoor variant on traditional field lacrosse.
The playing area is much smaller, typically played within the confines of a hockey rink. (Ice removed, of course)
A box team is comprised of a goalie and five runners, whereas field teams feature nine position players and a goalie.
Box lacrosse is sped up by a 30-second shot clock, similar to basketball.
The tight confines of the "box" typically result in a quicker, more physical game -- often called "The Fastest Game on Two Feet."