Year after year, the sport of lacrosse and the popularity of the Swarm continue to grow in the state of Minnesota. Not only is the Swarm organization dedicated to creating a positive fan experience and winning a Champion’s Cup on the field, but it’s also focused on growing the game in the local community.
Recently, the Swarm established a Jr. Swarm Team; an elite traveling youth box team. The 18-man roster consists of 13 and 14-year-old boys from the Twin Cities area, and is coached by Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines and the Swarm’s all-time leading goal scorer Ryan Benesch.
This summer, members of the Jr. Swarm Team will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and insight into the game of box lacrosse. Not only do kids receive professional coaching, but according to the Swarm staff, team members are essentially treated like “mini-pros.” Players will get a taste of life on the road as well, as they will travel to box tournaments in Irvine, Calif., Denver, and Toronto before the summer is over. They even have custom-made Swarm jerseys with their names on the back.
This past weekend, the Jr. Swarm team competed in a three-game exhibition series against a visiting team from Thunder Bay, Ontario at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights. After losing their first contest, the team showed vast improvement in their final two games, and ended the weekend on a winning note with a 10-4 victory. The team’s second game was a thriller as well, as the game was tied 10-10 at the end of the 4th, resulting in overtime and a shootout, where the Canadian team pulled out a narrow victory.
At the end of the day, it’s all in good fun for these kids. According to Jr. Swarm player Jack Welch, playing with the team has been just that – a fun experience – and a great way to stay active when they are not playing hockey or outdoor lacrosse.
“We are excited to start the season this weekend in California,” says Welch.
Parents are just as enthusiastic about the new program. It is a way to keep their kids active and offers the opportunity to work with an experienced - and approachable - coaching staff, according to Peter Hoffman of Rogers, whose son, PJ, plays for the team.
The fact that the team’s first opponent traveled six hours from Ontario to play in a few exhibition games simply adds to the program’s credibility and growing reputation. According to coach Caines, it was “unreal” for the team to play their first ever game in an international setting, and even better that the team showed so much improvement over the weekend.
“It was really exciting for the fans and the kids to see our second ever game go into a shootout,” Caines added. “We were really proud of the team on Sunday as the boys pulled out their first ever victory.”
This weekend, the team will fly to sunny California where they will participate in their first tournament at the USBOXLA Nationals. This will be the first of three tournaments for the team in August, as they will then head off to Denver for the Jr. Mammoth Invitational and then to the Jr. NLL Tournament in Toronto.
Tonie VanStelten, mother of Jr. Swarm player, Michael, says the kids are really looking forward to the travel. “It will be such a team building experience for them,” she said.