Jr. Swarm head coach Drew Petkoff encouraging players in last year's tournament | Photo Credit: NLL
The second year of the Georgia Swarm’s Jr. Swarm program is underway with kids donning blue and yellow ready to compete in the Junior NLL Tournament in Toronto. The fifth annual tournament begins this Friday at the Toronto Rock Athletic Center (TRAC) and will feature kids from all nine NLL teams going head-to-head during the weekend.
“Growing participation levels of box lacrosse across North America is a key focus for the league, and this event continues to help us reach that goal,” NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said in a press release.
Evidence of the sport’s growth in Georgia is reflected by the three Jr. Swarm teams filled with local kids participating in the tournament, many who are playing box lacrosse for the first time and a few who have some box lacrosse experience under their belts from last year’s tournament.
The Jr. NLL Tournament is divided across three age levels: Pewee (11-12), Bantam (13-14), and Midget (15-16). Teams follow modified NLL playing rules with shot clocks, pro refs, and NLL equipment. The first day of the tournament will feature a skills competition.
The Jr. Swarm features instruction from Swarm players and coaches, and all players receive custom jerseys with their names and numbers. During the weekend, kids are treated as professionals while competing in a safe environment designed to develop the sport and advance players’ skills.
“We had a large group last year where it was their first year playing box lacrosse,” said Jr. Swarm head coach Drew Petkoff, a defenseman for the Swarm and a seven-year NLL veteran. “One of the things that impresses me the most is that all of those returning players have a really high skill level and really have a much better box lacrosse IQ. I think that that translated with the players that are new to the program this year has just raised the overall indoor lacrosse IQ.”
Kids recently participated in a four-day skills camp leading up to the first practice, and Petkoff spent the week tutoring them in the basics of box lacrosse. Many of the young athletes have experience in field lacrosse, so part of Petkoff’s training was finding their lacrosse strengths and translating them to indoor.
“There’s almost no downtime in box lacrosse meaning that you’re almost always going 100-percent,” Petkoff said. “You need to be able to make passes in awkward situations where you’re running in one direction and you need to pass it in another direction and you’ve got a guy all over you … Everybody can pass and catch, but it’s really that passing and catching under pressure that we work on, and definitely people got better at it.”
Both players and parents rave about not just the fun the kids have playing box lacrosse, but how learning its intricacies and speed has helped them develop further as lacrosse players. Mark Dennis’s three sons — Michael, Bob, and Emory — are participating with the Jr. Swarm for the second year in-a-row, and Dennis was quick to note how their work on the floor has translated to field.
“Their speed, footwork, stick skills, and shooting, it’s all improved since they started playing box lacrosse,” Dennis said. “They’ll come off the field during a field lacrosse game after scoring and say the net’s too small.”
NLL coaches and players from all nine teams will help out during the tournament. Swarm head coach Ed Comeau and assistant coaches Sean Ferris and Dan Ladouceur will be in Toronto to help coach the kids during the weekend. Forward Kiel Matisz and goaltender Mike Poulin will also help instruct the kids during the weekend.
Last summer was Georgia’s first year participating in the Jr. NLL Tournament, and even though the team did not advance deep into the tournament, it was a fun time for everyone and a valuable learning experience for the kids and coaches. While winning the tournament is a goal for the team this year, Petkoff is more concerned with the kids having fun and developing their lacrosse talents even further.
“I feel a lot better going into (the tournament) than we did last year,” Petkoff said. “I’m actually really excited for this year because I think the kids have a much better baseline to start at and they’re progressing quicker as well.”
The Junior NLL Tournament will take place at the Toronto Rock Athletic Center and Glen Abbey Community Center in Oakville, Ontario from August 25-27. Junior clubs for the Buffalo Bandits, Calgary Roughnecks, Colorado Mammoth, New England Black Wolves, Rochester Knighthawks, Saskatchewan Rush, and Toronto Rock and Junior Edmonton and Philadelphia clubs will participate against the Jr. Swarm in the weekend-long tournament.
Members of the Jr. Swarm team will also receive one (1) Season Ticket and will have an opportunity to play during halftime of one of the Swarm’s games. For more information, visit GeorgiaSwarm.com/JrSwarm.