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Video: Ladner Pioneers are national champions

Exhausting week sees Ladner play eight games in seven days capped by an 8-6 win over Can-Am champion Akwesasne in Saturday's gold medal game played in Edmonton

It’s a lacrosse tournament like no other and the Ladner Pioneers are national champions for the first time in nearly two decades.

The President’s Cup is back in B.C. for the first time since 2004 after Ladner prevailed at the seven-team senior “B” championships in Edmonton. It took eight games in seven days, including an 8-6 win over Can-Am League champions Akwesasne Bucks on Saturday night.

It was the Pioneers’ fourth consecutive trip to nationals after initially being overwhelmed at the 2017 tournament. This time they headed to Alberta with a roster loaded with pro talent that steamrolled through the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association to the point where it didn’t sit well with some of their opponents. Yet, all along longtime head coach Ross Frehlick insisted that’s what was required to compete at nationals and he couldn’t have been more right.

Ladner had its hands full throughout the week — falling to the host Edmonton Miners then rallying from a 6-2 second period deficit to defeat defending champion Six Nations Rivermen in the semi-finals.

“A guy like (leading scorer) Tyler Pace who has won NCAA, Minto Cup and National Lacrosse League championships thought we were crazy. He looked at this team we had built and thought how could we lose? Then he realized once he got there that wow and how you don’t have to be a pro player to be a good player. A team like Akwesasne had maybe two or three pro guys but they battle and constantly come right at you,” said Frehlick.

Among the number of pro players joining Ladner this summer was hometown standout Logan Schuss. He scored twice in the gold medal game and has duplicated the feat his father (Ed) pulled off as one of the team’s all-time great players. Ed was on the bench Saturday.

“I grew up a Pioneer. I have been going to Ladner arena since I could walk. This one is special to be bringing it back to Ladner,” said Logan.

Defence wins championships

Even with all of Ladner’s assembled firepower, it was the backend of the floor that came through big time with the tournament on the line.

With their gold medal hopes slipping away in the semis, the Pioneers not only held Six Nations to a couple of goals over the final 30 minutes, it was their defenders that led the comeback via transition goals, including a hat trick from Jacob Doucet.

“You know, everyone talked about our offence. Just how good we were and we’re good, really good. But nobody wanted to play against our defence,” added Frehlick. “They were big, tough and just nasty to play against. They just worked their tails off constantly.”

Among the standouts was Sam Clare — a homegrown product who was playing in his fourth President’s Cup and joined Pace on the tournament’s first all-star team.

“Don’t get me wrong, like we have an unbelievable offence on this team, but I think that our defence really played a huge part and kind of kick started the comebacks that we had,” said Clare.

“This tournament is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. It’s absolutely grueling. You expect to walk away from it dragging yourself out of the arena.

“It’s hard to put into words. Like four hard years of battling to even get a sniff of the cup. The summer sacrifices that are made to put the work towards it. It’s a hard pill to swallow at the time, but bringing this cup back to our hometown makes it all worth it.

The Pioneers were launched back in the 1980s by Delta Sports Hall of Fame inductee Shirley Burr. Her son John has been active with the team as a player, coach and now president/governor.

“It’s all still surreal to me and it really hasn’t all sunk in yet,” said John. “Our guys dug deep and did what they had to do. Our trainers also did a fantastic job getting them ready every game, just managing all the injuries and sore muscles.

“The competition is so stiff. There are so many great teams and great players every year. It was just an amazing tournament.”

 The livestream of the game was shown in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tsawwassen Legion.

“They were cheering us on and sending me updates and as well I was sending them updates,” added Burr. “I would like to thank all our fans and families for the support we got back home. We’re over the moon about it.”

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