Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Sentinels open doors to bigger lacrosse world

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Sentinels huddle up during a training session.
The Sentinels Lacrosse Club aims to expand horizons for elite players in Saskatchewan.

The field lacrosse program is still relatively new getting its start in 2018. It found a home on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds when the Indoor Training Centre officially opened on March 1, 2019.

The elite program operates in a fall season from September to December utilizing both the Indoor Training Centre and Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The Sentinels run a junior varsity team for players in Grades 8 to 10 and varsity squad for players in Grades 11 and 12.

“Any players that we work with, we want them to be leaders and role models and to be able to contribute to their minor associations,” said Sentinels coach Arden Wipf. “We want to be able to identify and invite those players to work with us in the fall.”

Wipf and long time friend and fellow lacrosse coach Luke Acton started the Sentinels at the request of the Saskatoon Field Lacrosse Association. Before the Sentinels were born, Saskatoon was home to the Scorpions elite program.

The Scorpions came to an end in late 2017 as the program’s coaches decided to step away from the game.

Wipf and Acton have a lengthy history coaching the game together spanning multiple levels since 2006, with some breaks sprinkled in. They grew up playing both field and box lacrosse in Saskatoon and played in the NCAA ranks with the Bellarmine University Knights in Louisville, Kentucky.

They were asked if they could start a program that could fill the void left by the Scorpions.

They came up with the concept of starting fall elite field lacrosse program for the province that would have a schedule that didn’t conflict with field and box lacrosse programs that usually run from May through to August.

Wipf and Acton wanted to start an elite travel team to give players a chance to further improve their skills outside of the regular lacrosse seasons. As part of the recruitment, players would be identified and invited to take part in the program.

The Sentinels focus on staying on top of their academics.
The team would take part in competitions traveling to elite tournaments in the United States.

Acton said a goal was to give the top players a bigger challenge in the sport and open their eyes to a bigger world in the game.

“They play a league game in Saskatchewan, and they score as much as they want to score and they do super well,” said Acton. “We go down to the States, and we have competition down there.

“We realize we are maybe not as good as we think we are.”

Wipf and Acton got the thumbs up to get the Sentinels program running. They ran just a varsity program in 2018 and 2019 before adding a junior varsity team in 2020.

The Sentinels evolved to becoming a private entity going into the 2021 season.

While there is a focus on developing elite lacrosse players, Wipf, who is also an elementary school vice-principal, said academics is a big focus for the Sentinels program too.

“We do put a strong emphasis on academic pursuit and keeping education a top priority,” said Wipf. “These kids are in high school.

“They need to know and their parents need to know that lacrosse is great, and it is wonderful. Lacrosse is not the only important thing. It can’t be the only important thing in people’s lives.”

On the field, the Sentinels program aims to give deeper instruction and guidance with understanding team concepts of field lacrosse. The coaches want to help their players gain a better understanding of the nitty gritty details of what makes others in their same position excel and really good.

When the Sentinels have a scrimmage or an exhibition game, the coaches break down the film and go over it with players.

Being on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds, the Sentinels take advantage of the services offered by Ignite Athletics to help their athletes improve their conditioning.

The Sentinels take part in training at Ignite Athletics.
“In the big picture of things like among their peers, these kids are really growing,” said Acton. “That is why we do it.

“We want these kids to get better. They are fun to be around. It is fun, because they want to be better and we want to be better.

“We can achieve that goal together. That is why we coach. That is the most fun part of it is hopefully teaching these kids stuff you’ve learned along the way that can help them achieve something in the sport that maybe they thought they couldn’t.”

Wipf said the Sentinels program brings on players from both field and box lacrosse, which are two different styles of the game that utilize a lot of the same skills.

In field lacrosse, teams use nine runners and a goalie. Each squad fields one goalie, three defenders who can’t go in the offensive zone, three midfielders who can go anywhere on the field and three attackmen who can’t go into the defensive zone.

Box lacrosse, which is played by the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League, features each side hitting the floor with five runners and a goalie.

“I’m a strong believer that any kid or any player that wants to be the best lacrosse player should be playing both,” said Wipf. “The sports compliment one another, and there are different skills that you can better refine in one as opposed to the other.

“If we have a player that comes to us and they only have box experience but they have a really strong skill set of lacrosse and an understanding of the game, we can teach them advanced skills sets for field lacrosse just like we can for a field player that has never played box and vice versa.”

Acton said the Sentinels program wants to open doors for players to earn opportunities to play with the various NCAA field lacrosse programs in the United States. In turn, those players may get chances to one day play professional in the field or box style games.

Back in May of 2018, Saskatoon product Brendan Rooney helped Yale University win an NCAA title playing in front of 29,000 in the home stadium of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Acton said everyone in the lacrosse scene in Saskatchewan has to better at showing those opportunities can be real.

“I don’t think that as a whole we’ve done a very good job in lacrosse of portraying that opportunity the right way,” said Acton. “A great example is Brendan Rooney.

The Sentinels look forward to many faceoffs in the future.
“He won a national championship and went to Yale, which is an extremely impressive school. He did these incredible things with lacrosse, but a lot of people don’t hear about it. It was the quietest national championship that I’ve ever seen.”

Looking ahead, Wipf and Acton are looking forward to taking the Sentinels into the future.

“We’re excited to get going mostly because we are really excited to get these guys an opportunity to get together as a team and start competing again and start growing as players again,” said Acton.


All photos in the post came courtesy the Sentinels Lacrosse Club. For more information about the Sentinels Lacrosse Club, feel free to check out their website sentinelslacrosse.com or email them at sentinelslax@gmail.com.