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Cowichan Valley schools unite for girls field lacrosse program

Vipers bring together players from three schools, multiple countries
Molly Shea of the Cowichan Valley Vipers protects the ball from an NDSS player. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Students from several Cowichan Valley schools — including a strong contingent of international students — joined forces to create a girls field lacrosse season this spring.

The Cowichan Valley Vipers brought together players from Frances Kelsey, Cowichan Secondary and Quamichan School to give Canada’s national summer sport a go. Only eight or nine had any previous lacrosse experience, but they picked up the sport quickly under the tutelage of head coach Naomi Walser and held their own against teams from schools with lacrosse academy programs.

The Vipers played six games this season against Royal Bay, Nanaimo District and Claremont and had two game days at Royal Bay. Both Claremont and Royal Bay have lacrosse academies, while the NDSS and Cowichan teams are extracurricular.

“It was interesting that we practice and play for fun,” Walser noted. “And [the Cowichan players] did well against the academies.”

About 20 players from Kelsey, eight from Cowichan Secondary and four from Quamichan made up the team. Chemainus and Lake Cowichan were also invited to provide players. The team ended up including several international students from locales like Germany, Brazil and Chile who want to continue playing the sport.

“They saw the flyer that said everyone welcome, and ended up really liking it,” she said. “Now that they’re going back to their home countries, they’ve looked up local associations where they can play.”

Some of the local players who hadn’t played before are also looking to join local field lacrosse teams in the fall.

The Vipers started playing together just before spring break, and improved by leaps and bounds until their final games at the end of the school year.

“The kids were amazing, just seeing how much better they got over a few months,” Walser said.

The team practiced twice a week, once at Kelsey and once at Cowichan, with scrimmages at Kelsey on Wednesdays.

“Looking back, Wednesday was my favourite day because they just got to play,” Walser commented.

Walser had support from athletic directors Corene Gillis at Kelsey, Wendy Charles at Cowichan Secondary and James Cutt at Quamichan, and when she had to referee and coach games at the same time, she enlisted parents and older members of the Vipers to help out on the sidelines. Volunteers with knowledge of the sport are welcome to help out next year, Walser said.

Since school ended, Walser has helped coach Haudenosaunee (previously known as the Iroquois Nation) to eighth place at the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship in Towson, Maryland, and is currently coaching Haudenosaunee at The World Games in Birmingham, Alabama.

Drew Mangmang of the Cowichan Valley Vipers breaks in through the NDSS defence. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Molly Shea prepares to fire a pass to a Cowichan Valley Vipers teammate. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Elora Waardenburg carries the ball up the middle for the Cowichan Valley Vipers. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)