NAIG 2017 U19 Female Box Lacrosse Inaugural Tournament: History in the Making
History In the Making
In 2017. it was the first time U19 Female Box Lacrosse Championships held at the North American Indigenous Games July 16-22, 2017 was the first time female box lacrosse was included in the 25 years the games have been held.
For the majority of the athletes, this was their first and last time playing at the North American Indigenous Games and for others, they will have the chance to try-out for NAIG 2020 set for Halifax July 12 - 18, 2020.
These Indigenous Athletes will forever be remembered in history as the first group of females to participate in the games. The foundation has been established and will serve as a catalyst and important turning point for female box lacrosse. Future athletes who may have not thought it possible, will be looking forward to trying out for the largest national sporting event in North America in 2020.
The athletes ranged in age from 13 to 19 years of age. While the median age varied, age 16 for Teams BC and Manitoba and age 17 for Teams Saskatchewan, Ontario and Eastern Door and the North, the level of playing experience was distinct. For most of the girls, this is the first opportunity they have had to play on an all-female team. As lacrosse is currently a male dominated sport, the majority of the athletes had never played on a female team.
Team Saskatchewan had a hard time finding players to fill the roster. The game was new to a lot of the players. According to the Coach, Tyson Fetch, “Some had never picked up the stick before practices began in November”. As well, getting together for practices in Davidson was a challenge due to distance for travel. With the need to have a female staff member on the team, one of the parents, Darcy Ratt, stepped up to coach. She received her national coaching certification just prior to NAIG. Despite these complications, Team Saskatchewan made it to the bronze medal round. For many of the girls, they had the determination to keep going and playing. According to their Coach, “They improved each game and supported each other”. The ultimate goal at the end of the games was to share the experience and increase the number of girls and women playing lacrosse.
Team British Columbia held two try-outs and selected a roster of 20 out of the 27 athletes who tried out. The head coach was Savanna Smith. Savanna is well known on the lower mainland for her commitment to growing the game for female athletes in both field and box lacrosse. While she was brand new to working with the Aboriginal Female Athletes, she transferred her passion, commitment and ancestry to developing the athletes. With only one goalie, Olivia Psaila, register and try-out, Savanna’s first challenge was finding a volunteer goalie to field the team. Kristen Branget suited up and for the first time ever played between the pipes. Monthly practices were held at the Langley Events Center from March to July. The team faced a similar problem as Saskatchewan. Fifteen of the 20 athletes had to travel over 3 hours to practice. Over half of the team were from Vancouver Island. On Team B.C. most of the girls currently play box lacrosse on male teams. The excitement for the majority of the athletes, was playing with other females. At the Games, Team B.C. held a record of two wins and three losses, but bounced back to win the bronze medal. According to the coach, "Our goal was to teach the players and grow their abilities as leaders. All the staff involved in their journey couldn't be prouder of the team's accomplishment”.
Team Manitoba had mainly first years on their 18 player roster. As a team, they competed as hard as they could throughout the round robin. In their game against Team Saskatchewan, they held their own and lost only by two points. According to teammate Alicia Kubrakovich, “Team Manitoba came out every single game never gave up”. The athletes gained new skills and represented Manitoba honourably. While they did not medal, their showing exemplified excitement and perseverance. The Assistant Coach stated the athletes had “a lot of heart and were encouraging each other in a positive way no matter what the score”. On the coaching staff, Tyndall Fontaine, at age 22, was the youngest coach for the U19 Female Teams. He showcased solid leadership and mentored a team that will take his example to 2020.
Team Eastern Door and the North was coached by James (Spooky) Burns. Coach Burns has a history of coaching female box lacrosse. He coached his daughters and granddaughters over the years. During the games, Burns had the honour of coaching five of his granddaughters. The team, made up of mainly Akwesasne players, and similar to other teams, EDN had a difficult time getting athletes to register. They had fourteen runners initially try out for the team. EDN ended up taking the tournament with a bench of 15 runners and 2 goalies. The team played tough and accumulated a lot of penalties but displayed discipline and intensity that guided the team to a historic gold medal title.
Team Ontario were fairly represented. Out of all of the teams, Ontario had the largest turn out for try-outs. Team Ontario had to select 20 from 45 experienced athletes who play box lacrosse in clubs and leagues throughout southwestern Ontario. Team Ontario was competitive and had a solid showing throughout the entire tournament winning all games in the round robin. Their style of play was physical and the team displayed complete dedication and athleticism. Their head coach, Pat Pembleton, a scout for Monroe Community College field programs (men and women) , coached Senior “B” Women’s Lacrosse, had several years’ experience working with female athletes. The level of play demonstrated by Team Ontario can be attributed to the coaching staff and help. It brought them to the final medal round holding Team EDN to a one goal win and taking Silver.
All teams emphasized great coaching, family support, and an understanding of how ground breaking the opportunity was for not only the athletes but younger generations. By participating and hosting these events, Six Nations of the Grand River hosted a world class event at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena and the Gaylord Powless Arena. They showcased the value the Haudenosaunee place on lacrosse. It was not lost on any of the teams how important it was to play the Creators Game on the soil of the people who maintain the spirit of lacrosse and continue to sprout the most amazing lacrosse talent in the world.
Support from other females aside from the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, were evident at all of the games played at Six Nations of the Grand River: Notably, attendance from Chief Ava Hill, Marcia Trudeau-Bomberry, CEO NAIG, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Honourable Eleanor McMahon (front cover), and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell. Leadership are critical to mentorship and removing barriers and taking these athletes to the next level, wherever they plan to go next.
Representatives from the lacrosse community, such as legendary Lacrosse Hall of Famer, Cap Bomberry (see photo below with Olivia Psaila and Brounetta Terrance), Rusty Doxtator, Board of Director
with Canadian Lacrosse Association, and professional National League Lacrosse (NLL) Players such as Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless and Alex Kedoh Hill, turned the tournament into a world class event. Organizers and contributors, Kevin Sandy, Karen Bomberry, Dallas Squire, Cathy Smith, Six Nations Chiefs, volunteers and community members executed a tournament that sets a high precedent for future events.
Five female box lacrosse teams played in the newly sanctioned category of Female Box Lacrosse at the North American Indigenous Games. The face-off occurred at 9am at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on July 17th, 2017.
After the jitters wore off from all of the media coverage and flashes from the cameras, it was game on. And true to the spirit of lacrosse, the teams focused on playing their best and showing the Nations why female box lacrosse deserved its place as a category at the North American Indigenous Games. Below is the game ball from the first game against Team BC and Team Ontario. (Alivia Ungaro collection).
The athletes played full contact. The style of play matched that of any competitive box lacrosse game. And the hits, bruises, and injuries did not stop any of the teams from playing full out right until the end. The amount of penalty minutes attests to the intensity of the matches.
The females who stepped on the floor will serve as future leaders and these games like the spirit of lacrosse were a training ground to build warriors and settle disputes. Athletes learned about planning, picking themselves up, being resilient, embracing failure, and turning challenges into opportunity. The females created alliances that will carry them into the future. They are part of the alumni to North American Indigenous Games 2017. The hard work, dedication, and support of families, coaches and volunteers made the tournament what it was. Lacrosse is one big family. Consider this the first family reunion. Each participant deserves recognition to remind future players of the ground breaking ceremony that occurred on the soils of Six Nations of the Grand River.
FINAL SCORES AFTER THE ROUND ROBIN, July 17-19, 2017
July 17, 2017
July 18, 2017
July 19, 2017
STANDINGS AFTER ROUND ROBIN PLAY
TEAM EASTERN DOOR AND THE NORTH
TEAM BRITISH COLUMBIA
SEMI FINAL AND FINAL
July 20, 2017
July 20, 2017
July 21, 2017
Bronze Medal Game
July 21, 2017
Gold Medal Game