It had to be the most anti-climatic season in the long history of the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association (WCSLA), yet it was required to get the Ladner Pioneers where they want to be in three weeks...another crack at winning a national championship.
The Pioneers are headed back to the President’s Cup for the fourth consecutive time after steamrolling through the 2022 WCSLA campaign with 19 consecutive wins thanks to a line-up that is loaded with pro talent.
Saturday’s clinching 11-3 win at Sungod Arena against the North Shore Indians was played in running time to soften the final outcome.
“We were built to win the President’s Cup, not to win this league,” said Ladner head coach Ross Frehlick. “We’re happy we are going. We just wish it was next week.”
Instead, the Pioneers will have about a half a dozen practices at Sungod Arena over the next three weeks to prepare for the ultimate grind it takes to bring the President’s Cup trophy back to B.C. for the first time in 18 years.
Not only does it require winning as many as eight games over a condensed schedule, it will be against a number of opponents that also feature plenty of National Lacrosse League (NLL) talent.
That’s what the Pioneers discovered back in 2019 when two or three NLL additions to their line-up resulted in a sixth-place finish.
This time, they will head to Leduc, Alta with significantly more depth including Logan Schuss, Tyler Pace, Jeff Cornwall, Matt Beers and goalie Eric Penney. NLL playoff scoring champion Eli McLaughlin is also expected to be ready to go.
“It’s a lot better competition. We know we are going to be facing some really good teams,” said Ontario native Ryan Benesch, one of the NLL all-time leading scorers who also played for Ladner in 2019 and was among the top tournament scorers. “Obviously, we have a lot of pro guys on this team and everybody kind of knows what to expect and what we have to do to get ready for it.”
For Schuss, the President’s Cup means much more than potentially another accomplishment to add to his lengthy lacrosse resumé.
The 31-year-old Vancouver Warriors standout grew up with the Pioneers organization, watching his dad Ed and uncle John be prominent members of the team for decades. He also gets to try and win a championship playing alongside his lifelong friends, including team captain and fellow Ladner native Ryan Keith.
“For as long as I can remember I have been part of the Pioneer family. Guys like Rob Cook and Tim Winter were telling me I used to be carried around as a baby in a goalie stick,” smiled Schuss. “This is special because I also get to share this with my dad as he is now helping out with the team.
“I was a ball boy on those teams (in 1998 and 2004) when we won it and now I definitely want to put my name on it as a player.”
The relief of getting the WCSLA and provincial titles out of the way, means the Pioneers will actually get their best preparation for nationals on the practice floor.
“We know we are going to have to practice hard and our defence against our offence is the hardest these guys are going to see all season,” added Frehlick. “The best as we can, we have to stay motivated and be ready to go.”
The 2022 President’s Cup is slated for Aug. 26 to Sept. 3.