Team Ontario Gearing Up For National Titles

Well it is that time of year again, where people in Southern Ontario get spoiled to the tune of a National Lacrosse Championship in our own back yard.  From August 5-12 / 2007 teams from across Canada will be in Whitby at the Iroquois Sports Complex and play in the week long tournament for National bragging rights.

Today I had the opportunity to speak with both Head Coaches of Team Ontario; Peewee Coach Derek Keenan, and Bantam Coach Corny Derks.  I basically asked them both the same questions going into next weeks games to get an understanding for where they feel our Provincial Teams stand.

Good luck to both teams and for those that can make it out, get down to Iroquois Park and check out some great lacrosse.

Coach Keenan Interview:

GM: Having been through a Peewee Nationals last season, is there anything that you feel you saw that has helped you with this year’s team?

DK: We learned from last year that we needed a bit more size and I know we’ve addressed that. And the nice part is that the big kids we’ve added have skill too. They can play!

GM: There is quite a mixture of kids from across the Province on this team, how much time have you had together, and are you pleased with where they are at this point?

DK: We have had 6 full practice sessions spread out over 3 weekends. We have one this Saturday and one Sunday morning for a total of 8. It’s not a lot of time together but the practices we have had have been very productive. I have been really impressed with their attention to detail. We’re talking about keeping the attention and interest of 11 and 12 year old boys for 6 hours a day. They have been incredibly committed to the systems we’ve tried to implement.

GM: What kind of Team Ontario will people hopefully see next week?

DK: A damn good one I think! I feel we have a great combination of skill, speed, strength and goaltending. I think we’ll have a very good transition game and we also have a whole lot of players who understand how to play settled 5 on 5 offence. We have a good number of players who are equally as efficient at either end of the floor. We also have a few defensive-stopper type players who hopefully will be able to handle our opponent’s top offensive players. We’re going to be an exciting team to watch.

GM: Have you had any insights as to any other teams, in particular Teams Iroquois and B.C.?

DK: One of the most difficult parts of this tournament is that we really have very little information on our opponents. We’ll have a bit of an idea about Team Iroquois because we see the 2 teams they are mainly made up of, Six Nations and Akwesasne. They will be skilled and athletic. B.C. are always good and I don’t think it will be any different this year. They are finished their Provincials out there and the one thing I can tell you is that the MVP of the A division is on the team. I suspect Alberta will be pretty strong as well. We’ll get a look at all of these teams before we play them and do our best to put a game plan together quickly.

GM: Describe the atmosphere if you can surrounding the team and staying in the residence.

DK: I think the atmosphere is tremendous. I think along with the OLA’s Provincial Qualifier System and Provincials this tournament is one of the greatest events in all of minor sport. Not only do players within our team build relationships with players they normally do battle against, they build relationships with players from all over the country. At the residence there is always something going on. The parent’s don’t seem to mind it much either!

GM: Do the kids / staff have any feeling of pressure to win and if so, what do you do to help them deal with that?

DK: Staff pressure? Absolutely! After all we’re “supposed to win”, right? But it’s good and fun pressure for the coaches. As far as the kids feeling it I’m sure they do. I know they definitely did last year. We’ll do our best to keep things light and make sure they’re having fun. This is supposed to be the time of their lives and an enjoyable experience not life and death. We’ll keep things in perspective in that this is still just a game that kids love to play. We want them to work hard and execute when on the floor but off the floor to take in the moment. If we do our jobs as coaches we’ll have success!

GM: Nick (Ritchie), Nick (Karam) and Cam (Milligan) are returning from last season, Who else should fans be watching out for that have really impressed you so far?

DK: First of all, it’s huge for us to have 3 kids returning. They’ve been through it and can share their experiences with the rest of the team. All 3 of those kids are great little leaders in their own way. We have so many good players on this team it’s difficult to pinpoint 1 or a handful. Many of our guys such as Robinson, Milne, Lewis, Tinney and a few others will score a lot of goals. However if I were to point out 1 player for the fans to watch out for it would be Adam Abu-Ali from Mississauga. He’ll probably chip in at the offensive end as well but this kid is an absolute killer on defence. He can pound people and he can pick the ball up and run with it too. Like most of these boys Adam has been an absolute joy to coach too.

GM: Thanks for the time and good luck next week. I know fan support will high.

DK: Thanks Gary!

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