Boys Lacrosse: Canal Winchester Indians club team working to take next step

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Canal Winchester boys lacrosse coach Victor Paini talks with players during practice April 12.

Victor Paini has seen the growth of lacrosse in Canal Winchester from elementary school-age teams to middle school and high school teams achieving club status in the past few years, but one routine moment further reminded him how far the sport has come.

“A lot of these kids, I started coaching in fifth or sixth grade,” said Paini, president of the Canal Winchester Lacrosse Association and head coach of the high school club boys team. “In our first practice, (junior defender) Garrison (Brinker) drove himself and got out of the car. This is a player I started coaching in sixth grade and to see him drive himself to practice was a weird thing to see. But it’s great.”

Seventeen players comprise the high school team, which in its inaugural season of 2019 was split between Canal Winchester and Grove City students as part of a one-year agreement with the Grove City Lacrosse Club.

The team’s only senior is defender Raquan Clark.

The Indians practiced for a few weeks in 2020 before the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. They opened this season March 23 with a 10-5 loss at Newark and were 0-4 before playing host to the Wildcats on April 17 at Canal Winchester Middle School.

“We’re not winning all the games, but we’re getting better every day and making huge improvements,” freshman attacker/midfielder Harlee Hanna said. “I can see the attitude on our team changing as we play these teams. We started out really quiet but now we’re starting to pick things up more. We’re ready to play. The growth and learning experience just take time.”

Hanna began playing as a fifth-grader after watching college and professional games, including those of the now-defunct Ohio Machine.

Ty Bowman, a sophomore midfielder, attacker and faceoff specialist, took up lacrosse in the fourth grade with CWLA. He also played football but gave that up in middle school after tearing a ligament in his right knee.

“I like the pace and physicality, even though I get injured more in lacrosse than I ever did in football,” Bowman said. “Passing and catching has been our biggest thing. You can’t run an offense if you can’t pass and catch.”

Their stories echo Paini’s experiences. He said area residents occasionally have gathered outside the high school stadium gates to watch practice and added that a sixth-grader and his grandparents recently watched an entire practice from the bleachers.

The Indians are scheduled to play one game at the high school field May 11 against New Concord John Glenn.

“We get to decide what this program is going to be,” Paini said. “It’s more than X's and O’s and being good at lacrosse. We’re going to have a reputation as a program. What do we want that to be? To see these kids step up and lean into some of these leadership characteristics and vision has been great. Those things don’t have anything to do with skill. They have to do with mentality.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave