FERGUS – Opportunities for girls to play competitive lacrosse in Canada are growing.
This opens doors for athletes such as 10-year-old Khloe Hall of Arthur and 11-year-old Fiona Stephens of Fergus.
This summer is the first time there has been a national championship for U13 girls box lacrosse in Canada.
It’s also the first time there’s been a rep-level box lacrosse league for U13 girls in Ontario.
Centre Wellington is one of four teams in the new rep league, along with St. Catharines, Burlington and Guelph.
Hall and Stephens both played for the CW Riverhawks this summer and then went on to represent Team Ontario in the National Lacrosse Championship last month, helping the team place second in the country.
Neither athlete ever had the chance to play on a girl’s lacrosse team before this summer.
Though Hall has played lacrosse since she was a toddler, until this year she had no options but to play as the only girl on the Arthur Aces.
Hall said she feels much more included playing on an all-girls team.
Stephens, who also plays hockey and baseball, is new to lacrosse this year.
Both girls enjoy the competitiveness of lacrosse, and Stephens loves the aggressiveness too, while Hall loves the speed.
In youth lacrosse all players play all positions, and Stephens and Hall both said they don’t have a favourite. But if it comes down to a winning goal, Hall would rather help prevent the goal (on defence) than score it.
National Lacrosse Championship
Stephens said the significance of making Team Ontario didn’t really sink in until other people kept bringing it up.
Hall started to appreciate the magnitude of the opportunity when all their things arrived – equipment, jerseys, shorts, sweaters, and bags all emblazoned with the Team Ontario logo.
“Then it felt real,” she said.
The National Lacrosse Championship took place in Regina, Saskatchewan from Aug. 17 to 19. Four provinces participated: Ontario, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia.
Flying to Saskatchewan for the championship was the first time Hall had flown on a plane, an experience she said was both exciting and nerve-racking.
She enjoyed looking out the window at take-off and landing, noticing all the backyard pools in Toronto that looked like little blue dots and the farm fields in Regina in many different colours and shades.
The players stayed in dorms at the University of Regina, and filled their time there with fun team-building activities like charades, hide-and-go-seek and table tennis, as well as a field trip to the Skypark, where they climbed ropes, rock walls and a jungle gym suspended in the air.
They also watched the older teams play – Stephens particularly enjoyed watching the U15 and U17 finals.
The players spent all their time with their teammates, riding the bus and eating meals together, and by the end of the trip Hall and Stephens went from feeling quite shy to comfortable and confident.
“I felt like I knew them a lot longer” than just a few days, Stephens said.
Throughout the interview with the Advertiser Stephens and Hall sat side by side, often turning to each other for reassurance and bouncing off one another in conversation like old friends, despite having only met at tryouts this summer.
The final games
In the semi-finals, Team Ontario U13 defeated Nova Scotia seven or eight to one, Hall said.
Fiona’s dad Charlie Stephens said the game “started out pretty close – then you guys settled down and took it to them.”
At the end of the game when they realized they’d won and made it to the final, the Team Ontario girls all ran to their goalie to celebrate.
In the final the team was pitted against British Columbia, a game the Ontario girls knew would be tough, as B.C. beat Ontario 8-1 in the round robin game.
Stephens said the physical size of the girls on Team B.C. made them intimidating to play. The girls on Team Saskatchewan were bigger too, she added.
“It wasn’t your size or speed that got you on that team – you worked long and hard,” said Khloe’s dad Tyler Strudwick to both girls.
Stephens and Hall were two of the youngest girls on U13 Team Ontario this year.
In the final game, Team Ontario “played hard,” said Strudwick, noting, “You guys ran with them for a big portion of that game.”
In the end the score was 4-2 for B.C – a much closer game.
Stephens, Hall and the rest of Team Ontario U13 won silver medals to bring home to communities across the province.
The key to success
Stephens said if other kids want to succeed in representing their provincial team, the key is a good attitude. “They have to believe they can make it.”
“And work hard,” Hall said.
Charlie added Fiona showed it’s never too late – you don’t need to have played the sport since you were a toddler – as she made it to Team Ontario in her first year of playing lacrosse.
Strudwick said to both girls “the determination you showed – that’s huge.”
The girls’ parents said they’re very proud of them and grateful to all who helped make it happen, including everyone who sponsored them as well as each person who congratulated them.
Stephens and Hall said their goals for the future include playing for Team Ontario again next year.
Hall is hoping to go to a sports high school in a few years, and Stephens dreams of eventually earning a scholarship to an NCAA school for hockey or lacrosse.
They would both love to play professionally someday, and are hopeful there will be more opportunities for women to do so in the future.
“That’s what’s so cool for them,” said Khloe’s mom Kelsey Hall.
As players in Canada’s first National Lacrosse Championship for U13 girls, Stephens and Hall are part of a groundbreaking movement towards more inclusion of women and girls and sports.
“It hasn’t been paved for them,” Kelsey said.
“They’re doing it.”