Sarnia Pacers U13 coach Tom Quinn knew he had a special group of players at the start of the season.
“They’re highly skilled, physical players,” the head coach said of this team of 11 and 12-year-olds. He knew they were up for the challenge to rank as an ‘A’ team, taking on the top lacrosse squads in the province.
“In the last six years, Sarnia Lacrosse has produced a few ‘A’ teams and we wanted to continue to raise the bar and set a high standard.”
Now, they’re heading to the Final Six “A” Provincial Championships in August — something the Pacers haven’t done since the 1990s.
“This is a huge accomplishment for our organization,” said Steph Dunlop, who serves as the team’s manager and also the president of the organization. “We knew we had a good ball club, we just weren’t sure how things would shake out. But they’ve been incredible.”
The season began with 69 U13 teams across Ontario; the Pacers had to work their way up the rankings through zone games and tournaments — including winning a pair of bronze medals at the Chuck Miller Classic in Guelph, and the Barry Burman Shootout in Orangeville, this summer.
That moved them into the top 10, punching their ticket to the ‘A’ qualifiers — held over two weekends in Whitby and Kitchener-Waterloo in July, where the team went 2-1-1 and 2-3-0.
“One of the surprises was our game against 3rd ranked Peterborough,” said Dunlop, pointing to a thrilling come-from-behind tie with just minutes left.
“You would have thought think they won the Stanley Cup.”
In Kitchener, the boys secured a crucial come-from-behind win, this time over Burlington, officially bumping them into sixth place and earning their spot in what the OLA calls ‘The Road to the Final 6.’
They’ll compete at the “A” Provincial Championships to be held in Whitby, August 4-6
The Sarnia Pacers haven’t done that since 1997.
“Some of the guys who played on that ’97 team were actually at the rink when the boys won,” Dunlop said, adding that they’re coaching their own kids’ teams now.
Local lacrosse is booming these days, Dunlop said, pointing to eight travel/rep teams in the organization, along with three house league squads.
The U11 Tier 1 team, led by head coach Jeff Cox, is also boasting an impressive season, qualifying among the top 12 in the province and the U7 team, coached by Joel Cocarell, is currently ranked 7th.
“We’re seeing a lot more kids getting introduced to the sport,” she said. “I think it’s the camaraderie; everyone is always rooting for each other.
“We’ve done a really good job as an organization to make it a positive experience.”