Shoes will soon take the place of skates at the Ponoka rinks as the lacrosse season is set to get underway.
The Lacoka Lacrosse Association (LLA) will see nine teams play in its six divisions and has seen a bit of an uptick in registrations for this season.
“Our total registration for the upcoming season is sitting at 138 athletes. This is up slightly from last year,” said Alex Wyse, LLA vice-president of coaching development.
“Some of our biggest increases have been in the mini-tyke (5-6 yrs) and tyke (7-8) divisions. These are the little guys and they are the future of our association, so it is great to see some strong numbers in those age groups.”
Wyse added that the majority of the players come from the Lacombe and Ponoka areas, but that they are seeing many rural areas — such as Bashaw, Alix and Rimbey — being represented on the teams.
When asked why lacrosse has seen a steady growth in the area, Wyse stated it all lot of it has to do with how fast the game is.
“Because lacrosse is awesome, it has been dubbed as ‘the fastest game on two feet’ and it definitely is that,” he said.
“On top of the speed, the sport features amazing passing plays and physical contact, making it a highly entertaining game to watch and to play.”
Wyse added the sport had changed a lot in the area since LLA took to the floor in 2003.
“Lacrosse is relatively new in central Alberta. For more families, this is a first generation sport. It isn’t like hockey where you have a whole bunch of parents that grew up playing it, so recruiting coaches is a challenge,” he said.
“Having said that, one of the cool things we have started to see is a change in the demographics of our coaches. We are seeing a lot of our athletes that have graduated from our program coming back to help coach and pass on all that they have learned. It is pretty amazing to see things coming full circle in that regard.”
While people mostly compare the game to its ice-surface cousin hockey, playing lacrosse with the shot clock, pick plays and strategy is probably more similar to what people would see in a basketball game.
Overall, LLA will have two squads in the tyke and bantam (13-14) divisions with one each in the mini-tyke, novice (9-10), peewee (11-12) and midget (15-16) categories. However, Wyse explained the LLA is also proud of having put together — for the second year in a row — an all-girls team, which combines girls in the bantam and midget age group.
“This is an amazing step for us as an association and for the sport. This achievement has been possible, thanks in large part, to the hard work of our female lacrosse director Julie Barnes,” he said.
“The only other club in central Alberta that has been able to put together an all-girls team has been Red Deer and because of this, our girls’ club plays in the greater Edmonton league.”
For the rest of the LLA, the teams play in the Central Alberta Lacrosse League with practices split equally between the arenas in Ponoka and Lacombe. What that also means is being at the mercy of when the ice comes out, often leaving little time for practices before the season kicks off.
This season, teams were only able to hit the floor two days ago (April 3) with the season’s opening tournament this coming weekend.
“We are definitely hitting the floor running,” Wyse stated.
However, a lack of officials is continuing to hamper the sport across the province, so the LLA is hoping its efforts to introduce the game to more people will help with that and also grow lacrosse overall.
“Finding officials is definitely a challenge we face, as do other regions. Lacoka hosted a referee clinic in March and we want to strongly encourage any of our older players to try it out as means to better understand the game,” Wyse said.
“Also this year, we are going to attempt to expand the game even more by introducing a mid-season adult (16-plus) scrimmage time. This will be a fun, non-contact opportunity for adults in the community to come out and play this amazing sport.
For more information, head to www.lacokalacrosse.com.