The Sudbury Intermediate Rockhounds have arrived — now they have to prove they belong.
The rep lacrosse team became the first local squad since the re-emergence of the Greater Sudbury Lacrosse Association around the turn of the millennium to qualify for a coveted spot in the Ontario Lacrosse Association Division A provincial championships this summer.
This week in Whitby, coach Mike Marion and company will test themselves against seven other elite Ontario intermediate teams. This year, like in most others, the bulk of the Rockhound rep teams will compete primarily in C groupings, with the tykes getting their feet wet in Division E.
Small wonder then that lacrosse folks from southern Ontario might be somewhat cynical in wondering whether the upstarts from the north have benefited from a season of smoke and mirrors.
Undeterred, the team marches on, confident in the knowledge that this step in their ongoing road of progress is a good one.
"I like A, because we're a young group and this will give us lots of experience," stated 17-year-old Seb Desormeaux, one of several core players who have now spent the past seven or eight summers sweating it out at rinks across the province.
"We can learn from this and keep getting better in years to come."
Qualifying for A division is based on the rankings that teams accumulate in tournaments over the past few months, although Sudbury has faced only one of the other A teams (Orangeville) to date.
Yet with years of travelling to provincials, the young men representing the GSLA are fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
"The A teams are a lot faster, a lot quicker moving the ball, a lot quicker running the floor, coming back on defence — just a lot more skilled," said Desormeaux.
It has been that level of lacrosse that coach Marion has worked to ingrain in his team. While he is quick to suggest the players on the floor deserve all of the credit for everything they have accomplished, his dedicated troops might disagree.
"Mike has been the reason why our team has been doing so well," acknowledged Mitchell Mousseau. "Mike has been like a father to every one of us. He teaches us new things every year and keeps it interesting."
The height of the mountain they have climbed is not lost on these Sudbury teens. "The A lacrosse is what everyone watches at provincials," said Mousseau. "All of the kids look up to the A teams.
"When I was with the Sudbury Peewee C team, I can remember watching the Oakville A team and thinking what great lacrosse it was. I wished that I could play that some day — and here we are."
Simply showing up, however, is not in the DNA of this collection of talent or their coach. They are certainly not about to predict a gold-medal run. They do believe, however, that remaining competitive is absolutely within the realm of possibilities.
In fact, with two teams moving on from each pool of four teams in the A division, the Rockhounds will suggest that a semifinal berth is an achievable goal.
"We have to move the ball well and stay out of the box," said Mousseau.
"You still have to be aggressive and rough, but you have to watch the after-the-whistle stuff."
Desormeaux, meanwhile, knows the demands of full and part-time summer work has made it tougher to play to the absolute max of their abilities.
"We're a quick team off the rush, but our conditioning is not where it could be," he said. "We'll need to keep pushing to the end."
It looks like that mentality has served the Sudbury Intermediate Rockhounds well, as they travel where no GSLA rep team has been before.
The 2014 roster for the Intermediate team is comprised of goaltenders Dan Ingriselli and Eric Paquette, as well as Tristan Simeoni, Wesley Blacklock, Bo Peltier, Nick Marion, Kieran Peltier, David Withers, Sebastien Desormeaux, Austin Bouchard, Curtis Bennett, Nick Jeffery, Bailey Emond, Mitchell Mousseau, Jacob Leore and Riley Campbell.
The team staff features head coach Mike Marion, assistant coach Eric Bouchard, trainer Greg Jeffery and team manager Cindy Mousseau.