For the Journal
As the lacrosse season winds down, it appears to be a banner year for the Sarnia Pacers.
“We’re back on the map,” said Pacers Minor Lacrosse president Stephanie Dunlop, after the club captured two medals at the Ontario Lacrosse Festival, for the OLA Provincial Championships in Whitby Ontario, Tuesday afternoon.
The Pacers boasted eight representative teams this season, as well as three fundamental house league teams, many of which had standout seasons.
Among those teams was the U13 Pacers who finished ranked 9th in the province and qualified for the OLA Final 6 last month.
“That hasn’t happened in Sarnia since 1997, so it has been 26 years in the making,” said Dunlop. “We did go 0-5 at Final 6, so we didn’t do as well as we hoped, but to be able to say we had been there for the first time in 26 years was a pretty cool feeling as the president, manager and my son played on that team too.”
Dunlop says she’s pleased to see that Pacers organization has done well in growing the sport, locally.
Sarnia had both U9 Pacer squads in Whitby to contend for a provincial championship this week, with both teams reaching their respective finals.
The U9 Tier 2 Pacers, coached by Dustin Jeffrey, finished their season 53rd in the province, qualifying them for the D Championship.
After finishing the round robin 2-0-1, the Pacers tier 2 team would go on to win 5-3 in the quarter finals, eliminating Oshawa to advance to the semi-finals Tuesday morning against the Centre-Wellington Riverhawks.
The pacers would play from behind, as the Riverhawks jumped out to a 5-1 lead after the 1st, and held a 7-4 edge heading to the third. It would be the Pacers though who would dominate the third, scoring four, including three unanswered to force overtime tied 9-9.
Lincoln Meyers scored a hat trick, while U7 paperweight call-up Nathan Cross would score four goals, including the overtime winner to send Sarnia to the finals against a familiar rival in the Wallaceburg Griffins.
The Pacers would go on to capture the silver medal, as the Wallaceburg Griffins would take an early lead, and not look back en route to an 8-1 win.
Over in the B division, the Tier 1 U9 Pacers, who finished ranked 22nd in the province, would get an opportunity to avenge a round-robin loss, but not before some thrilling victories in the elimination round.
After going 2-1-0 through the round robin, much like their tier 2 counterparts, the tier 1 team would need some overtime heroics to propel them to the semi-finals.
Coach Jesse Thompson was proud of how his team handled adversity in the quarter finals against Brampton, a game that finished 10-9 in overtime on Monday.
“Our team showed a lot of character to come back from big deficits, we were down 6-3 to Brampton, who is ranked second in our grouping this tournament. They’re a really good squad; we came back and won in overtime.”
That overtime victory would send them to the semi-finals Tuesday morning to take on the Orillia Kings. It would be another tight one-goal game.
Sarnia opened the scoring in the first, and took a 2-1 lead into the third. Orillia would make a push scoring early in the final frame to tie it 2-2. Pacers would responded with a goal of their own about four minutes later to go up 3-2, a lead they would hold onto until the final buzzer, securing a spot in the finals.
Goals came from Pacers Taylor Haley, Cooper Webb and Hunter Henderson.
In order to win a provincial title, the Pacers would need to avenge their only loss of the tournament, facing off against the Cornwall Celtics. These two teams met in round robin action, with Cornwall winning 6-4.
Sarnia would give up the game’s first goal early on, but the defence and goaltending was key, as the Pacers entered the third only trailing 1-0. With 9:42 left to play, the Pacers tied it on a goal from Brody Norris. The eventual game-winner came with just two minutes left, as Cooper Webb found the back of the net, sealing the 2-1 win.
“We lost to Cornwall in the Hamilton tournament and the round robin; we knew we had to play a different type of game,” Thompson said of the championship win. “We knew what Cornwall had — they had a lot of weapons and we just played really strong defensively.”
On the success of the Pacers as an organization, Thompson said it starts from the executive right down to the parents and fans.
Dunlop credits the coaching staff as well as as the kids.
“Those kids really learn from their coaches, and I just think watching the kids today, you can get down on yourself pretty quick when you’re down 1-0 and they didn’t let that deter them — even though they’d been beaten by that team before. So to come back and win gold is phenomenal.”
Earlier this summer, Pacers players Noal Grondin, Cooper Kennedy and Kai Tope, were selected to represent Canada at the Youth Lacrosse World Series Championships in North Carolina, competing among the top 13u teams from the U.S., and a select group of international teams.
The Pacers now look forward to this weekend as the Ontario Lacrosse Festival continues; Sarnia has both U11 teams participating.
The tier 1 U11 Pacers, coached by Jeff Cox, are ranked 7th and qualified for the A division, while the Tier 2 U11 Pacers coached by Shawn Zettel come in ranked 37th and will play in the C division.
They begin round robin play August 11.