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Longtime lacrosse rivals attracting stars and big crowds

NLL standouts Logan Schuss, Eli McLaughlin and Robert Church in Ladner line-up

The Ladner Pioneers and North Shore Indians have the senior lacrosse spotlight all to themselves this summer and they are certainly making the most of it.

With the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the Western Lacrosse Association and West Coast Senior Lacrosse seasons, the longtime rivals agreed to play an exhibition series once competitive indoor sports was given the greenlight to resume. Making it even better was the province approving spectators returning as of July 1.

Fans have been turning out in big numbers for the series which is now in the homestretch. It concludes with a best-of-three “playoff” that starts next Tuesday in North Vancouver and continues Aug. 5 (8 p.m.) in what will be the Pioneers’ final home game of the season.

Longtime Ladner head coach Ross Frehlick has used the series to dress 39 players, ranging from pure rookies to some of the top scorers in the National Lacrosse League. Among them are hometown star Logan Schuss (Vancouver Warriors) and fellow Delta Islander Junior “A” alumni Eli McLaughlin of the Colorado Mammoth. They led the Pioneers to a convincing win last Thursday.

Others to suit up include Robert Church (Saskatchewan Rush), along with Jon Phillips and Evan Messenger. The latter two play for the WLA Nanaimo Timbermen and had leading roles in the Islanders’ run to the B.C. Junior “A” title in 2016.

“I think these guys have come out and realized this is pretty good ball. They have all been great,” said Frehlick. “They are super nice guys that don’t come with attitudes or egos. Sure they know they are good and you have to have a little bit of swagger to be a player of that level, but they are such good people and good guys. They just want to get ready for their pro seasons.”

The series has not only provided much-needed training for the 2021-22 NLL season that will begin in December, it has also given the Pioneers the chance to showcase what their program and rich history is all about.

Ladner has attended the past three President’s Cups and hope to be heading to Alberta in 2022 when the national senior “B” championships resume.

The rotation will take the 2023 tournament to Ontario before it is B.C.’s turn in 2024 when the Pioneers will bid to host the event for the first time since 1997.

“Everything we are going to do for the next three years is going to be for that season. The decisions we make. The players we keep. All that kind of stuff,” continued Frehlick. We would love it if those guys decided to play for us. I just think going forward this series is huge for us. It makes us better and is getting our name out there.”

Thanks to North Shore’s terrific fan support, the series has been a financial windfall too with the Pioneers generating over $6,000 in ticket sales in three home dates. The Indians have even agreed to split the gate of a potential deciding game if the playoff series goes the distance.

“It has been huge for our club,” added Frehlick. “I think other teams must be kicking themselves because this has been fantastic.”