It’s been almost two full years since the Saskatchewan SWAT last played meaningful games and a lot has changed since then.
Only eight players remain from the 2019 edition of the Junior A lacrosse team and former assistant coach Kyle Wongstedt is now calling the shots on the bench.
The new head coach says it’s basically a clean slate.
“There isn’t a ton to think back on, so a fresh start, fresh look, fresh team. You know we’re excited to hit the ground running here,” Wongstedt said.
SWAT captain Keagan White is one of the returning players. The defender is helping to bridge the gap between the veterans and newcomers as the team gets up to speed after a long layoff.
“It’s getting the team back together and adding on some new guys. There’s a lot of young faces so guys haven’t been playing with each other much this year as they have in the past and (we’re) definitely getting our legs back underneath us,” he said.
The fresh faces this season include four players from Manitoba, where provincial COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted more slowly than in Saskatchewan, thus preventing a box lacrosse season from taking place.
Now the athletes get a chance to play competitive games instead of missing out on a second straight season, while the SWAT get some extra talent to reinforce their roster.
“Some of their older guys were looking to play somewhere else so we brought them in here and they’ve been amazing, hard-working guys, looking to do anything they can to help the team win,” Wongstedt said.
Winnipeg native Jackson Neufeld is enjoying the experience so far.
“There’s a really positive team culture here that’s really blown me away and everyone’s grateful to be here every day and it’s huge. You know there’s a lot of camaraderie,” he said.
A delayed start to the 2021 Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League season means the SWAT are playing only ten regular-season games instead of the 15 they played two years ago.
That’s still ten more than they played last year and no players appreciate that more than veterans like White who are in their final year of junior eligibility.
“It’s our last hurrah, it’s our last kick at the can, right? It’s the last time you’re playing with the guys that you’ve been playing with for the last six, eight years, whatever it is. It’s huge,” he said.
While many of the faces have changed and there are fewer games on the schedule, the ultimate goal for the SWAT is the same as it’s always been.
“Our expectations are always to win the whole thing,” Wongstedt said.
While the SWAT has struggled out of the gate, losing their first five games, all four teams in the Junior A division of the RMLL will qualify for the postseason.
That allows teams to use the regular season to build toward the playoffs and Wongstedt believes every team is talented enough to win the league title if it gets hot at the right time.
His philosophy for the SWAT is simple.
‘Hard work, good times, and hopefully a banner at the end is our plan for the year.”