The complicated story of lacrosse

Why U of T isn’t funding a game on the rise

The complicated story of lacrosse

As is the case for most lacrosse players, David Berta fell in love with hockey first. “I started in hockey, and got into lacrosse in my first year of high school — grade nine,” he recalled fondly. The now-captain of the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team found a passion for the lesser-known sport of field lacrosse in summer cross-training, and has never looked back.

Despite it being an unpopular Canadian sport, lacrosse is the country’s official summer sport. Its origins can be traced back as far back as 1100 BCE from a variety of Indigenous communities, including the Ojibwa and Mohawk peoples — far before hockey skyrocketed in contemporary culture.

The Algonquian word for those original stick-and-ball games, baggataway, has even been borrowed as the name for today’s men’s university field lacrosse national championship. With such distinct historic and local beginnings, why isn’t lacrosse lauded in Canada to the same extent as hockey or basketball?

This lack of popularity in dominant culture stems from a tradition of insularity within the sport and from a legacy of colonialism. After being introduced to lacrosse, an ardent Canadian nationalist named William George Beers decided that it should be appropriated to become Canada’s national sport.

After founding the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1856, where Indigenous people were excluded, he created a standardized set of rules that govern the game to this day. As such, although he learned the game from Indigenous peoples, Beers is popularly regarded as the father of lacrosse.

Slowly, the sport moved away from Indigenous-settler games. These were never really an equal competition to begin with once the British appropriated it by codifying rules on their own terms and opening their own clubs to control who, when, and how to play. Based on this burgeoning sentiment of exclusivity, lacrosse became an attractive pastime for the socially affluent, pervading elite college campuses across Canada and the United States in the twentieth century.

Unlike hockey, basketball, or baseball, which sought commercial success and open access to all, the elite collegiate clubs chose to remain exclusive, not only barring lacrosse’s Indigenous founders, but those of lower social standing. While other sports moved toward professionalization, lacrosse coaches and players sought to maintain a ‘gentleman’s sport’ that would be played for the sake of athletics alone.

Although this cost the sport in terms of exposure, lacrosse is bouncing back. According to The Atlantic and an annual survey from US Lacrosse, it’s the fastest growing team sport in the United States.

Berta has noticed the rise in interest. “One hundred per cent. It’s definitely growing. You can see it clearly — there’s a growing number of teams, leagues,” he said. “The National Lacrosse League is expanding in terms of the number of teams they have. . . there’s also a league that started off this past year called the Premier Lacrosse League. It’s gotten really popular, it’s sponsored by NBC.” With lacrosse finally buying into expansion and commercialization, there are more eyes on the game now than ever before.

Conspicuously, however, the men’s lacrosse team isn’t in the Ontario University Athletics Association (OUA) like the women’s team is. The Varsity Blues also gives it less funding than the latter. This presents a glaring question: for a national sport quick on the rise, and for a team that consistently succeeds on the field, why isn’t the university prioritizing their success?

The real issue stems from where men’s lacrosse sits within the University of Toronto’s Intercollegiate Sport Model, a tiered system developed to allocate resources. The men’s team has been placed in the Blue and White division, one below the women’s. This presents an inequality in lacrosse between the two teams: the Blue and White division gets allocated less funding for key program development and maintenance strategies.

Unlike the women’s team, the men get no organized strength and conditioning, more limited access to facilities and sport medicine, and less funding for team apparel, among other disparities. “We kind of have to go to our own resources in terms of organizing team lifts and whatnot,” said Berta. Seemingly, there is a simple answer to this difference in division: the men don’t play within the standard intercollegiate league — the OUA — so they must be a less competitive team that is less deserving of funding.

This is untrue. University men’s lacrosse plays instead within the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA). Established in 1984, CUFLA is the most competitive league for men’s intercollegiate field lacrosse in Canada. It is comparatively more challenging to succeed within than the OUA league, boasting 14 teams versus the OUA’s 10. Nevertheless, the men’s lacrosse team holds its ground within CUFLA and typically makes it to the playoffs.

Further, since it was founded before the OUA acquired women’s lacrosse in 1998, it would follow that the men aren’t in the OUA because they already had a high-level, competitive intercollegiate league to play within.

The issue, then, is not in the skill level or competitiveness of men’s lacrosse at U of T. It’s about how Varsity Blues intercollegiate sports perceives sports that are not within the OUA as lacking such qualities — a hyper-focus on OUA championship banners above all other competitive successes.

“It certainly seems like OUA teams get more funding than we do, from the university,” noted Berta. “It seems like the OUA is a more legitimate governing body from their perspective.” The captain is also quick to explain how the men’s team would thrive even more with a bump in funding: “We would definitely benefit from it. We’re already competitive in the league, so I think it would really allow us to go ever further.”

So maybe the team doesn’t have to be in the OUA, but Berta believes that there is an argument for the Varsity Blues to consider it a division-two sport at U of T.

Bottom line? U of T should provide Canada’s national sport with the recognition and funding it deserves, no matter if it be the men’s or women’s team.

The Varsity Blues Intercollegiate Sport has not responded to requests for comment.

All the way to Baggataway

Inside the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team’s 2018 season

All the way to Baggataway

“That’s a turnover!” head coach Joe Nizich shouts, his voice echoing through Varsity Stadium as an errant pass sails out of bounds. He shakes his head and paces down the sideline, exasperated.

The Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team lines up and resets the drill.

“We have to hold on to the ball!” Nizich yells, and as the whistle sounds, the team restarts the drill. The whistle sounds again, and again, and again. Just like it has nearly every day since late August, all in preparation for the November 9–11 weekend when the Blues host the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA) championship, the Baggataway Cup, for the first time in their program’s history.

Baggataway. The word on everyone’s lips since it leaked in early spring that U of T would be hosting the tournament. Baggataway, “the Creator’s game” — the game played by the Indigenous peoples of this land that has come to be known as lacrosse. Baggataway, the final weekend of the CUFLA men’s lacrosse season.

September 7: Toronto at Laurier (win)

The final seconds of the halftime break are ticking off. The Blues are huddled together, laughing and gesturing to the scoreboard, 7–2. It’s only halftime, but the game is surely over. Captain Jason “Barney” Barnable has begun the season the same way he begins every season — scoring goals and setting them up. As the team comes together before taking to the field again, coach Nick Bradley is quick to pour water on the flames. He looks around the huddle, and shakes his head. “I don’t know why you’re all laughing, score’s 0–0.”

Play like the score is tied; it’s a common refrain in team sports. Imagine the next goal as the winning goal. In the first game of their season, it’s a lesson that the Blues have yet to learn. A game that seemed certain at halftime ends closer than it needed to.

On this night, the talent on the Blues roster makes the difference. They win the game, but as they get back on the bus and fight through traffic to arrive home in the early hours of the morning, they know that, in the coming weeks and months, talent alone will not be enough.

September 28: Toronto vs. Brock (loss)

The Blues are down big time. They’ve given the last 72 minutes of gameplay at home to Brock. Through the bitterly wet and windy night, the Blues have fought hard, but there’s only eight minutes left and they’re going to lose this game. A timeout is called and the team huddles together with the coaches.

Team captain Zach Holmes hunches over, exhausted — 72 minutes and he’s played every second. He winces as he stands up straight, his back to the scoreboard. Tall, proud, and defiant in the face of defeat, he says, “We can play with them, boys, we can play with anyone in this league — we just have to play our game.”

Their heads raised high and eyes blinking through rain that is now falling heavier and heavier with each minute, there’s a sense of determination and belief that resounds through the team. It isn’t about the single lopsided game, it’s about the progress. It’s about finishing as you mean to go on. “We’re going to play a team like this at Baggataway,” coach Jon Moore says. Normally calm, jovial, and easygoing, the team’s offensive coordinator is electric come game time. “They’re not better than us. Our guys against their guys any day of the week.”

The team comes together again, huddling close. “Eight miles, boys!” a reference to former captain Jonathan “Rudy” Rudyk’s favourite method for keeping time. There’s some laughter and a few grins, then on the count of three, “Blues!” rings through the huddle, through the wind and rain. There’s a sense of togetherness and a sense of family.

There’s no Hollywood ending to this game. No emotional comeback. No last-second winner. There have been some of those in past games and in games to come; but not tonight.

The 2018 Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team. PHOTO COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES ATHLETICS

A heartbreaking loss

The men’s lacrosse team has a group chat, as almost every varsity team does. It’s a space to talk about practice, workouts, academics, and general team banter. It’s a space all of their own, away from coaches, and trainers, and doctors. A place to tease and support each other, it’s a virtual locker room.

On September 10, a different message is sent in the group chat. It is a message that will dramatically alter and come to define the season. Coach, former captain, and forever friend Alejandro Duque passed away the day before. The shock and heartbreak that the players feel is beyond words, beyond comprehension. Senior players had been teammates with Al; they had leaned on his experience, been motivated by his burning passion, and come to love him as a brother. They can’t make sense of it. He was so young, so vibrant, and so excited for the next chapter of his life. The first-year players, most of whom hadn’t met Al, don’t know how to react, only understanding that Al’s loss was a massive one.

That week, practice is tough. No one has the words to describe the hole that is left in the heart of the team. No one wants to practice, and yet being there, together, is comforting.

The one thing that unites the team, that unites every player on the roster, is a love for lacrosse. They take comfort in a crisp pass and an extra effort to get a loose ball. They take comfort in celebrating a particularly outrageous goal, and a stellar defensive play. They take comfort in the sport they love, and it is healing.

The team attends Alejandro’s celebration of life later in the week. Generations of Blues lacrosse players come to say goodbye. It is emotional in many ways. There are many tears, but nearly as many smiles. In a time of such sorrow, there is a sense of family.

Thing One and Thing Two

“Power, do your stretches!” Darren “Blondie” Elliott shouts over his shoulder. “You do your stretches!” Sean Power yells back, mocking him.



The pair go on like this for a few more moments, shouting at each other and bickering like an old married couple, much to the amusement of the rest of the team. Thing One and Thing Two. Inseparable off the field and leaders on it. Both joined the team the previous year; Blondie, a silky smooth attackman, and Power, a tenacious midfielder.

An offensive midfielder last year, Power selflessly moved to the defensive side of the ball for this season. There’s no glamour in being a defensive midfielder in field lacrosse. No goals or fancy tricks. No six-foot long pole to wield like a broadsword. It’s a hard, heavy job between your marked man and the ball-carrier. The constant running, vicious body-checking, and fear of making a mistake and having to fish the ball out of your net.

But the team comes first, and Power’s sacrifice has ensured a strong and dependable defense. At their best, the Blues defense frustrates, leaving their rivals bruised, battered, and struggling to score.

September 30: Toronto vs. McMaster (win)

As darkness descends around Varsity Stadium, the bright lights shine down on the Blues as they warm up. Everyone on the team has their own pre-game ritual. Some spend time alone to focus. Others exchange lighthearted banter and shoot on the net until the coaches call them in.

The Blues always find McMaster a difficult opponent. Although unable to match Toronto’s talent, McMaster never fails to match their intensity. This game is no different. Heading into the final 20-minute quarter, the Blues are losing by a goal.

In a season filled with such promise — and with the ultimate goal of lifting a trophy at season’s end — losing to McMaster at home would be devastating.

With less than 10 minutes left, first-year attacking midfielder and graduate student Nick Pison scores his second of the game to tie things up. A diamond found in the intramural rough, Pison has been an offensive standout for the Blues. But now at five minutes and counting, Mac once again takes the lead.

“No more,” Gabriel Lisus-Lean says. Those two words are simple enough to understand; they are the ethos of defense. Do not break, do not even bend. Give everything you have in these final minutes. Whatever it takes, hold.

This is defensive coordinator Lisus-Lean’s fourth year as a coach, after playing four years for the Blues.

Eight years with the program, and time and time again, he’s mentioned the dream of playing a playoff game at Varsity Stadium. The Blues are guaranteed that game at Baggataway, but Lisus-Lean is well aware that with the execution the Blues are showing tonight — that game could turn ugly.

CUFLA abides by international rules: four 20-minute quarters. But the fourth quarter of the game against McMaster isn’t going to be won or lost on September 30 alone; it is either won or lost during August training camp and every practice thereafter.

At the end of every practice, strength and conditioning coach Dr. Alex St. Pierre spends 10 minutes putting the Blues through brutal conditioning exercises that leave them gasping for air, legs leaden beneath them.

But it is these 10 minutes every day that give them the mental fortitude and physical ability to play the way they do in the final five minutes against McMaster.

With less than two minutes to go, Barney scores to tie the game. In the final minute, Barney finds Blondie, who buries his decisive second of the game. The Blues win.

Darren “Blondie” Elliott despairs at one of the few chances he’s missed. PHOTO BY SEYRAN MAMADOV/THE VARSITY BLUES

October 12: Toronto at Western (loss)

Rain is falling and the temperature is dipping dangerously close to zero; these are some of the only constants of October lacrosse. It’s halftime and the Blues are huddled together. They’re in London, taking on the Western Mustangs. After hours on the road, the Blues have come out flat. The coaches are seething, as the Blues have failed to make a simple play and they’re being punished for it.

Lacrosse is a brutal game. Historically, Indigenous peoples used this sport as a war game. Entire tribes would compete against each other on a scale scarcely imaginable, with estimates ranging from 100 participants to 100,000.

Today, only nine men and a goalie take the field at a time, and although it is no longer a war game, the stakes are still high and the play is still ferocious. Considered the fastest game on two feet, there is no slow play in lacrosse. It is full tilt and high octane, and at the highest level in the country, the animosity and vitriol is evident.

The Blues have an injury list that seems to be growing by the game. On this night, Barney, Blondie, first-year goalie Macon Jeffereys, and I — a fourth-year defensive midfielder — are unable to play. Many of the Blues on field are nursing injuries too, but playing through pain is nothing new.

The Blues’ entire roster at full strength is only half of the Mustangs’ dressed roster. Leaden legs chase desperately after the Mustangs, who are two-time defending national champions.

Second-year long-stick midfielder James “Chilli” Keane has run ragged into the ground. Play after play, he has hacked, slashed, and stopped one of the most prolific offenses in the league. But in a war of attrition, on this night, the Blues are outmatched. The score ends 21–6. It could have been far worse if not for the efforts of goalie Matt Frola.

In the locker room, there is nothing to say. The team knows. They know that simple mistakes lead to goals. That to beat the Mustangs, they needed to play a near perfect game. Tonight wasn’t perfect, not nearly. But it was a lesson, especially of the type of game that the Blues would need to play to win at Baggataway.

In professional sports, there is an old adage that says athletes need short memories. Through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows they must keep level heads. But as undergraduate and graduate students, the Blues are not professional athletes, and their spirits tonight are low.

Jeffrey Zade is an upper-year student studying molecular biology. With a wicked shot, always low to high, the attackman doubles as the team’s de facto comedian. He gauges the mood on the ride back from London. As the bus rolls through the dark night, past farmers’ fields, construction, and the glare of traffic, Zade slowly but surely lightens the mood.

Back in Toronto, the team steps off the bus laughing, eager to continue their journey to Baggataway.

Two more weeks of sleeps

It’s Wednesday, September 5, and the Blues are scheduled to open their season against Laurier on Friday night.

After a long night of practice, the Blues slow clap and circle up. Water bottles are passed around and ice is given to those in need. They discuss the things that went well, and the things that they need to work on tomorrow. The beauty of practice is that there is always another one tomorrow.

“Three more sleeps!” someone calls out, reminding everyone of the coming game and the dawn of this most important season. There’s a lot of laughter, and some shoving, “Two sleeps, you mean?” More laughter, as the team struggles to figure out how many sleeps until the seventh. After an embarrassing few moments, everyone realizes that it is, in fact, two more sleeps.

The laughter and camaraderie is what makes the Blues special.

Now, for the next two weeks until November 9, the Blues will practice for their 7:00 pm quarterfinal game at Varsity Stadium.

Weeks and months of field practice, work in the gym, and for many, years of playing lacrosse for U of T, are coming together for this final weekend of the season.

Since August, the Blues have practiced day in and day out for Baggataway. They have practiced and played to make sure that, come November 9, they are ready to lay it all on the line.

Baggataway — for the first time in the program’s history.

Blues men’s baseball finish second, women’s lacrosse fourth

Results from the Blues at the OUA Championships

Blues men’s baseball finish second, women’s lacrosse fourth

The Varsity Blues men’s baseball and women’s lacrosse teams competed in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship action this weekend. The Blues baseball team earned silver in Ajax, while the women’s lacrosse team competed for bronze in Peterborough.

Capturing silver

The Blues baseball team entered the baseball playoffs at second place in the standings, behind the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, last year’s championship runners-up.

Toronto opened the tournament on Saturday with a tightly contested 4–3 victory over the Western Mustangs. Gabriel Nakonechny sealed the victory with a walk-off single. The Blues also routed the Brock Badgers with a 9–1 victory. In the evening, Nakonechny followed up the stellar performance with another walk-off single to defeat the McMaster Marauders 3–2.

Toronto entered the final day of the tournament on Sunday with a 3–0 record. In the semifinals, the Blues defeated the Guelph Gryphons 5–2. Following a nail biting extra-innings showdown final with the Golden Hawks, the Blues earned silver. Toronto levelled the score in the top of the ninth inning but were unable to take the lead. In the bottom of the 11th, the Golden Hawks broke through with a walk-off single to win the game 4–3 and clinch the OUA Championship.

Almost bronze

With head coach Jim Calder at the helm, the women’s lacrosse team finished the regular season fifth in the OUA with an 8-4-1 record.

The Blues opened the OUA Championship Friday evening with a decisive 12–8 victory over the reigning champion Western Mustangs. Laurel McGillis and Brynne Yarranton led the Blues with four goals and a hat-trick respectively.

Unfortunately, Toronto was unable to get past the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, dropping their semifinal match 10–2.

The Blues were unable to secure bronze for a second straight year, losing a tough 6–5 overtime decision to host Trent Excalibur.

Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse extend winning streak

Blues defeat Laurier Golden Hawks 17–11

Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse extend winning streak

It wasn’t pretty, but they’ll take it.

The Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team played host to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks on Saturday night at Varsity Stadium, pulling out a 17–11 victory.

Characterized by sloppy play and mental errors, the game proved to be a back-and-forth affair until the fourth quarter, when six unanswered Blues goals stifled any hopes of a Hawks upset. The final frame saw the Blues focus, execute, and force turnovers, which marked a significant shift from the first three periods of action in which they struggled to rebut Laurier’s uncharacteristically chippy play.

The first half saw the lead change hands seven times, and the Blues claimed a small 7–6 advantage heading into the break. Jackson Hickey’s goal in the second quarter proved impressive, as he took a feed from Jason Barnable and found the back of the net while being knocked flat to the ground by a Hawks defender, drawing a penalty on the play as well.

Laurier opened the third quarter on a mission as they managed to score two straight goals and take a 9–8 lead just five minutes into the period. However, the Blues responded with solid defense, as Davis Bottomley’s strip of a Laurier player at the 12-minute mark led to a Darren Elliott goal from Nick Pison a minute later.

Shortly thereafter, AJ Masson’s goal off an offensive rebound was waved off, but he would not be deterred, stripping the Hawks’ goalie and scoring in spectacular fashion to make it 10–7 Blues, with eight minutes left on the clock.

The home team dominated the final 20 minutes, captured elegantly by a beautiful give-and-go sequence between Elliott and Barnable that was created by an Elliott steal four minutes in. Elliot finished the game with three goals.

Barnable scored two goals and tallied six assists, while Pison found the back of the net five times and added an assist to lead the Blues’ offense with eight and six points, respectively. Masson and Bottomley enjoyed four- and three-point nights, respectively. Hickey, Zach Holmes, and Alex Emerson rounded out the scoresheet with a point each.

Varsity Blues head coach Joe Nizich was less than pleased with his team’s overall performance, but praised the group’s turnaround. “In the fourth quarter we started [controlling the pace of the game], winning the draws and stopping their fast break,” he said. Pison agreed, saying that in spite of mental mistakes, the team was “able to bounce back,” and that “faceoffs [and] getting turnovers ended up giving us the lead we needed.”

The two consecutive wins for the Blues mark a departure from a devastating start to the season, as the team dealt with the tragic death of 25-year-old assistant coach Alejandro Duque on September 9. Duque had played for the Blues from 2011–2015 and was set to start his Master’s degree the day after his passing.

Blues women’s lacrosse earn unbeaten home weekend

Blues trounce York Lions 21–4, draw Trent Excalibur 10–10

Blues women’s lacrosse earn unbeaten home weekend

The Varsity Blues women’s lacrosse team (WLAX) played its lone homestand of the season, as Varsity Stadium played host to several Ontario University Athletics WLAX matches on September 15.

The Blues entered the weekend tied for fourth place in the OUA with a 1–1 record, after opening the season with a 14–8 loss against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and a 6–2 victory over the Guelph Gryphons.

Toronto easily dominated York in every area of the game to earn a commanding 21–4 victory.

Despite the early 8:30 am start time, the late summer humidity was felt from the opening faceoff.

The Blues started the match with eight unanswered goals. Attacker Sarah Morgan played a vital role in the Blues offense, coordinating attacking plays from the right wing. Brynne Yarranton and Mary Frost each scored five goals to lead Toronto.

York attacker Sonya Mwambu was the lone bright spot for the Lions, using her tremendous speed to penetrate Toronto’s defense.

The heat and humidity only got higher ahead of Toronto’s second game of the day. Players from the Queen’s Gaels and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks attempted to beat the heat and relax between matches by taking naps on the concourse, an effective barricade from the sun.

Toronto’s match against the Trent Excalibur was an intense showdown featuring two sides unable to break away from each other, ultimately ending in a 10–10 tie. Trent opened the scoring two minutes into the match and Yarranton promptly answered back for the Blues.

After a strong performance against York, Blues goalie Sierra Watkins had a rough first half as Trent mounted pressure and used cutters to create space in front of Toronto’s goal. Watkins looked more confident in the second half, as the Excalibur fired a flurry of shots toward goal.

Yarranton picked up where she left off against York, netting another five goal performance. Fellow attacker Heather McDougall added four goals for Toronto, and Frost rounded out the scoring with one goal.

Fans, including players from the Blues men’s lacrosse team, stood and cheered during the dramatic final two minutes of the match.

Trent pressed forward and Watkins stopped a shot from point blank range. After possession changed, Yarranton ran toward goal, swerving between defenders and firing a low shot into the far corner to level the score at 10–10.

The play prompted a member of the male lacrosse team to exclaim, “Why aren’t any of our games this exciting?”

Trent committed a foul near their crease, providing the Blues with a prime chance to take the lead. But Toronto’s shot from close range fell just wide of the far post.

The Blues were able to regain possession but unfortunately, as their attackers circled the Excalibur goal and fans eagerly anticipated a game-winner, time expired for the Blues.

Jeska Eedens leads a bright future for Blues women’s lacrosse

The head coach earned bronze and OUA coach of the year honours in 2017

Jeska Eedens leads a bright future for Blues women’s lacrosse

After a transformative sophomore season coaching the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s lacrosse team, head coach Jeska Eedens is heading back to her family home in St. Catharines. On a Friday morning, a few hours before she’s scheduled to depart Toronto, Eedens, alongside co-captain Sarah Jamieson, recounts the year-long journey the team underwent following their second consecutive seventh-place finish in 2016.

It was not a fluke that just a week prior, the Blues defeated Wilfrid Laurier University to earn bronze at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships.

“At the end of last season it was very clear afterwards that we are better than this and we have the talent, the systems, and everything in place that we shouldn’t be in seventh anymore,” says Eedens. “This time last year, literally a week after OUAs, I was getting messages from our girls being like, ‘Hey, when are we lifting, when are starting the offseason, when are we going?’ And so we spent a year working towards it, and our goal was a gold medal, a championship.”

Jamieson believes Eedens has provided Toronto with an outline for success, one that begins with her constant effort to reinforce a strong team culture. She expresses that prior to Eedens’ hiring, the team lacked cohesion and the ability to set an overall goal.

“Since Jess has taken over we’ve been able to see that we, as players, have such an impact on how we play on the field and also what we put into our offseason,” says Jamieson. “Our goal-setting, our working out really dictates what’s going to happen… She’s given us a vision [and] the girls have grasped it.”

“It was important to me to make sure the girls always knew that I 100 per cent believed that they can do it,” adds Eedens.

As the Blues enter the offseason with a plethora of graduating players, Eedens is excited by the challenge of rebuilding the team. She spent last summer tinkering with different lineups and shift changes, scheduling when and where each player was subject to play depending on the various game situation, but without last season’s veteran squad, she no longer has the luxury of knowing her entire lineup.

“Going into next year is going to be a lot of fun because everything is going to be so different, we’re going to be seeing new players really stepping into roles that they were just starting to get into at the end of this season,” says Eedens.

A self-described lacrosse nerd, Eedens appears jovial. Earlier in the morning she provided Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy lacrosse team with a campus tour, where she highlighted the campus and facilities as well as the benefits of competing at a Canadian university.

“A lot of players look to the States, but… more and more girls are starting to stay in Canada to play as the OUA becomes more competitive,” explains Eedens. “It’s really nice to outline for them: you can have this really competitive varsity experience and this great student athlete experience while coming to this amazing university.”

“I hope we can do more stuff like that because they were really engaged,” she says.

Eedens wants to build a program that can rival the Western Mustangs, the “perennial powerhouse” and side that defeated Toronto 10–4 in the semifinals, a match she admits felt a lot closer than the final score suggests. Eedens notes the Blues had a tough time finding the back of the net in the match and were unable to stop the Mustangs. Western went on to win the championship, their sixth title in the past seven seasons.

“The girls on the Western team said we gave them a battle… despite it being a loss, we were still proud of our efforts in that game,” Eedens says. “We gave them a run for their money.”


The offseason, which began unofficially with lifting sessions that will go until Christmas, ramps up in January with three lift days per week and one weekly practice and scrimmage. Last year, the Blues went to the US and faced Williams College in an exhibition match during the offseason, and they are looking to do something similar in the coming months, as well as play in a tournament. Eedens utilizes the offseason as a period of time to break down mechanics and focus on the little things with each player. Graduating players will also participate in workouts to help bridge the gap and better prepare next year’s team.

“That was something that during the season our players were really good about. They understand that some of the newer girls need some playing time in games, trying to set them up, and trying to teach them, so that when it’s their turn next year they’re a little more prepared,” explains Eedens. “We still have some great leaders returning and it’s going to be up to them to step up and were really going to be looking towards them.”

She also makes a candid pitch for other athletes around campus to participate in lacrosse.

“Female athletes who are looking for something new and have played a lot of sports should play intramural lacrosse hands down,” she says. “I played for a year and I became a captain, the government paid my tuition, I played for Team Scotland, [and] I’m the head coach now. It’s an easy sport to learn because it uses so many skills from other sports.”

Through Eedens’ meticulous preparation and vocal leadership, it’s easy to see why she was selected OUA lacrosse coach of the year by her peers. Describing the magnitude of the award and her immediate thoughts upon receiving the achievement briefly stagnates the well-versed coach.

“To know that people you have a lot of respect for wanted to recognize me is a great honour,” explains Eedens. “I was really surprised, pleasantly surprised.”

“I think that she deserved it more than anyone else…We implemented certain systems that wouldn’t have been able to be implemented without her,” adds Jamieson. “We are so lucky to have her.”

Eedens first picked up a lacrosse stick at 17, before she entered U of T about a decade ago. She knew she wanted to play on a Blues team but was unsure which one. She considered volleyball, soccer, and rowing, but her path was ultimately dictated by her love for lacrosse. After spending her rookie season as a bench-warmer, Eedens blossomed as a key defender for Toronto under the guidance of Blues assistant coach Jamine Aponte. She earned the OUA most valuable defensive player award and all-star honours in 2009.

The following season, Eedens’ playing career was halted by a concussion, and she dropped out of school that same year. She came back to school for a fifth year, but she didn’t play, then she became a part-time student and soon found a full-time job. She suggests that over the course of her four year-layoff, she likely earned only “a credit and a half.”

In 2015, Eedens made a return to lacrosse, even though she hadn’t touched a stick in three or four years and wasn’t in shape.

“I was working full-time and was not super happy,” admits Eedens. “I had this dream job, amazing life in Toronto, but I was like, ‘I’ll take a step back to go forwards and finish my degree.’ I came back and the coach at that point said they were short on girls, so I thought, well if I’m taking a step back to my undergrad, I guess I should go back and play lacrosse too.”

“I was not a star player that year… Coming back was really me trying to finish off my degree. I got my concussion at my peak: I just had the best season of my life and I got knocked out of it, so I wanted a bit of closure.”

The following January, then-head coach Taryn Grieder needed help to run the offseason and hired Eedens as an assistant coach. When Grieder resigned, Eedens decided the most natural thing would be to apply for the vacant position. She knew the program, the girls, and she was confident she would be the best person for the job.

“I got the phone call on my convocation day, so that was a good day,” remembers Eedens.

Jamieson has had the best vantage point to view Eedens’ growth. Their relationship began when Jamieson was 14. A hockey player, Jameison was instructed to play lacrosse over the summer, and the following season Eedens was at the helm of her local team.

“It was funny coming back because I coached Sarah… this young woman with all these leadership skills and everything, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so old,’” laughs Eedens.

“The year that [she] coached me with Jamine was actually my first year with a real coach and I was kind of like, ‘Oh, this is what lacrosse is like,’” says Jamieson.

“And it was my first time coaching, so I was like, ‘Oh this is what coaching is,’” laughs Eedens again. “Sarah will be our assistant coach next year, when she graduates.”

“Full circle,” replies Jamieson.