One Vernon Tiger will become a Lion. One will become a Falcon.
Together, they’re the latest players to help raise the profile of the Tigers’ and North Okanagan Minor Lacrosse Legends’ programs.
Current box lacrosse teammates Thomas Mackiewich, 18, and Zack Gares, 17, of the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League champion Tigers have inked U.S. college NCAA Div. 3 field lacrosse deals for 2019-20.
Mackiewich will be heading to Bryn Athyn College, 32 kilometres north of Philadelphia, to suit up for the Lions — a team that has fielded several Vernon Tigers alumni. Gares will be going to Mequon, Wis., 24 kilometres north of Milwaukee, to play for the Concordia University Wisconsin Falcons.
“There is plenty of lacrosse talent available in the Okanagan region, and in Vernon especially, that doesn’t get the recognition and notice that they would if they were living in the Lower Mainland,” said Tigers general manager Duane Barr. “So I am excited that both of these gentlemen and Vernon Junior Tigers were able to sign deals with these schools to gain a post-secondary education and play field lacrosse at the same time.”
Mackiewich, entering his third year with the Tigers in 2019, began playing lacrosse when he was 12. The former football player got bored with the gridiron during box lacrosse’s off-season and switched to field lacrosse.
Best move he ever made.
“As soon as I started playing field lacrosse, I fell in love with the sport,” said Mackiewich, a field lacrosse midfielder, or middie, and goalie who learned about the Bryn Athyn program from Barr and Lions and Tigers alum Nolan Frame, a four year player for Bryn Athyn who graduated this year.
“Duane got an e-mail from coach Tucker (Durkin) asking about players, Duane sent the e-mail to me and I got to chatting with him and Nolan. I asked Nolan for as much information as possible and it sounded like the perfect school for me.”
Mackiewich, a Clarence Fulton Secondary grad who is hoping to study criminology, said playing field lacrosse at college has always been in the back of his mind.
“My dad brought it up,” he said. “Since then, I started thinking it could be a possibility and now it’s happening. I’m excited.”
The Lions compete in the North Eastern Atlantic Conference. They went 9-7 overall in 2018 but 7-1 in the conference. They lost the conference championship to State University New York Morristown Mustangs.
Durkin was impressed by what he saw of Mackiewich.
“We plan to give Thomas a look both at goalie and midfield,” said Durkin. “It is awesome to have a guy like Thomas that has experience at both positions.
“I recently watched Thomas’ film, and have spoken to Duane. At the goalie position, he has solid fundamentals, moves well in the cage, and has really quick hands. Additionally, having field experience outside of the cage is a major plus. It will allow us to use Thomas in different positions if need be.
“I have tremendous respect for Canadian lacrosse players. I have personally competed against them for the last 10 years on the college, professional, and international stages. They bring a different element to the field game that helps any team. We, at Bryn Athyn, have had the pleasure of having several guys from the Vernon-BC area join our team. The biggest thing is their attitude, their presence in the locker room, and their coach-ability. All of the guys from that area that have come through our program were a pleasure to coach and be around.”
In Mequon, a town of 23,000, the Falcons compete in the Midwest Lacrosse Conference, where they dropped the conference championship game to the Aurora (Illinois) Spartans. The Falcons were 13-6 overall and 8-1 in the conference, just behind the 9-0 Spartans.
The Falcons got wind of Gares and reached out via phone.
“They have a brand new business building being constructed and I’m very interested the business program,” said Gares, attending Grade 12 at Kelowna’s Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School. “They made me a very good scholarship offer and I’m very excited to have this done.”
Coming off his rookie season with the Tigers, Gares has been playing box and field since he was 10, playing both year-round.
He is an attack player on the field who can also play middie.
“I love field lacrosse, love the openness of it,” said Gares.
Said Falcons’ head coach Michael Fahey of his recruit: “I really liked how athletic Zack is, and his stick skills. His lacrosse IQ is outstanding. I think he will get significant playing time while he is here at CUW. We have quite a few Canadians who attend CUW so I think he will fit in here very well.”
Both Mackiewich and Gares were members of the Thompson Okanagan Selects U18 field squad, a travelling team made up of players from throughout the region.