Waikato Men’s Lacrosse Gathers Momentum
Waikato Senior Men’s had an exceptional tournament at NZ Senior Lacrosse Nationals last month, beating an Auckland side for the first time at the tournament and earning themselves a silver medal overall.
Speaking after the critical match against Auckland, Leamington player Anthony Warrington describes the closing seconds “I was in defence, it has happening in slow motion, and Kris [Nebeský] who is one of those lads who has come up from the High School League and is now playing in our NZ Men’s National team …. to see him get the ball and for him to score that goal for us, it was him carrying the torch… He nailed it and we all lost it!”
It was a defining moment for what has been a long hard road for men’s lacrosse in the Waikato. Warrington observes “The win signified moving from being known as a team that no-one takes very seriously … to playing good lacrosse with people that we’ve been developing for 7 or 8 years.”
Waikato Men’s Lacrosse has been going for the best part of 17 years, with the Senior Men’s League starting 6 or 7 years ago. In the first year, there were teams from Hamilton North, Hillcrest, and Cambridge, but it didn’t work particularly well as there wasn’t the player base to support a formal league at that time. The Boys’ High School League, which started in 2013, was a really key step forward and helped feed new players into the Senior League.
Warrington says “If we had to go back and do it again, I would have started immediately with the Intermediate School League. Kids at that age are easier to get into the sport and get hooked whereas High School kids, a lot of them have other dedicated interests and sports.”
Another turning point was recognising that Te Awamutu Marist, who played as a club from the outset, were able to develop their own identity, access funding for gear, and get support from the local community. Guys from the rugby club also loved the sport of lacrosse and eventually ended up playing themselves. After that, Leamington, Hamilton Devils, and Suburbs all became affiliated clubs in 2018, followed by Matangi Hillcrest in 2019.
“You can actually see when you compare the two [regions] that our growth has been exponential, and we’re really catching up to their player count and skill level at the youth level. So it’s really promising for us” observes Warrington.
“Slowly each year, we have made more progress and more progress, sometimes there have been setbacks – people have gone off to university or the sport has not been for them. It’s like we are starting to reach critical mass where we are getting enough players and just enough people interested and enough kids interested to finally start breaking through into the men’s team and for us to start benefitting.”
Apart from developing the sport in the region, are there any other things that have helped?
Warrington comments “There are a few things. We made the decision to get more involved with the committee and the WLA. We wanted help with procedures for the men’s team, again everything done by the book. They found us a dedicated Head Coach [Mark Freemon], not a player Head Coach which is what we had always had. So we had a dedicated Head Coach for the very first time, a very experienced coach which was so important.”
“Also they made the decision that we were not going to be drinking on Saturday night. So a lot of the time for the men’s players it has been very much a social tournament where we get together with players from the other regions ….but this year the focus was on the tournament and doing as well as we can. That was a turning point for us.”
“It’s been a long road, but now we are starting to see the payoffs. An amalgamation of all of us consistently putting in work, and consistently working together, and getting things done and working as a team to develop the region’s lacrosse. For the guys who had been around for a while and watching this grow, [our success at Nationals] was just so meaningful for us.”
Photo credit: Ange Makara