The Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League (TOJLL) kicks off its season with its Ice Breaker tournament on April 13 and the South Okanagan Flames will be taking on Kamloops Venom at the Kamloops Memorial Arena at 7:30 p.m.
Kevin Thompson, head coach for the Flames, said he anticipates a strong first game from his players. He said the team struggled last year but they are “eager to rectify their bad showing” during the 2018 season.
“We are looking excellent, we have a great group of guys with twenty-two on the roster. They’re all young, quality lacrosse players,” said Thompson. “We’ve made major improvements after our rough year last year. Obviously all of our returning players are a year more mature and eager to rectify our bad showing last year. And we have a good group of new guys coming in who are very experienced as well.”
The league is facing a second year with a lack of players and, as a result, the Armstrong Shamrocks will not be putting forward a team. The Kelowna Raiders were unable to put together a team last year and will not be included in the league this year either.
Thompson said since the Raiders are not entering the league this year, they’ve had some players from Kelowna join with the Flames.
“Up until this year, we were down one team and now we’re down two. It’s very disappointing because there had been talks prior to the season that Kelowna might be back, and they tried awfully hard to get their team back together so we were hoping to be back to a full-strength league this year,” said league commissioner Jeff Hanley. “Unfortunately it didn’t pan out, but we did receive a letter of intent from a new organizing group in Kelowna that they intend to have a team in the league next season.”
Hanley said “Armstrong has a small base to draw from as far as new players” coming up for the minor division to play in the junior league. He said minor lacrosse players from Armstrong play for a Vernon team, which also has a team in the TOJLL with the Vernon Tigers.
“This year, there was only one eligible graduating midget player (out of Armstrong). But next year I think we’ll be closer to ten (players),” said Hanley, noting that while the league is short-handed on teams this year, he anticipates it will be back to a full five-team league.
He said the league has also struggled with commitment from volunteers and executives, noting that they rely on parents and people in the community to help with “working the door, team management, executive positions” and more.
Another change for the league this year is a result of changes in the junior B division. Hanley said the TOJLL is now considered junior B tier one.
“What that means, in a nut shell, is it’s the top tier in junior B lacrosse, so the next step would be moving up to junior A,” said Hanley. “And we don’t have any junior A teams in our league so they’d have to go to the coast to play that. But we’re now the uppermost level of junior B lacrosse that’s possible in our province.
“We’ll be competing with coastal teams so for provincials we’ll be competing with tier one teams on the coast.
The Ice Breaker tournament will feature a mini-senior lacrosse tournament as well, featuring local teams. Hanlet said one tier one team from the coast will also be playing in the tournament, which will be a good indication of the TOJLL teams’ skill versus non-l0cal teams in this new tier.
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