Head coach Vince Longboat has nothing but praise for the group of former Niagara-on-the-Lake Thunderhawk players who contributed to the Brock Badgers successful 2022 season.
“We lost 15 players from last year,” Longboat says of the Badgers’ 2021 championship team. “And we had some key injuries this year. These guys stepped up. We put systems in place and these guys got it.”
Trent Hunter, Joe Fragnito, Hunter Ostromecki and Jordan Wiens were all on the undefeated NOTL Under-22 team that won the Ontario box lacrosse A division championship in Whitby this past August. Along with fellow former Thunderhawks Aidan Buis, Jaden Patterson and Nathan Fehr, they can add a Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association silver medal to their accomplishments in the sport.
After finishing the season with seven wins and four losses, the Badgers went into the Baggataway Cup playoffs in Peterborough Nov. 4 to 6 with few expecting them to challenge for the championship.
They edged the Bishop’s Gaiters 8–7 Friday to advance to the semi-final game against the Guelph Gryphons, whom they beat in last year’s championship game. The Gryphons had beaten the Badgers twice during the regular season this year.
“We could have won (the second regular season game) against them,” Longboat recalls. “We lost that one (8–7) in overtime. After that game, it was pretty clear sailing the rest of the way. We had confidence heading into Saturday’s game.”
Brock punched their ticket into the final with an 8–7 victory over the Gryphons. Both Buis and Hunter contributed goals in the win.
On Sunday, they faced the host, Trent Excalibur, for the title. Though Brock scored first, Trent roared back with a relentless attack, cruising to a decisive 12–3 victory.
To both Longboat and fourth-year player and team captain Aidan Buis, though the loss stings hard, the Badgers stand to learn much from the experience. And Buis will likely be leading the charge for 2023.
“We know we can always improve,” Buis tells The Local. “That was a big thing throughout the season. Guelph beat us 11–6 the first time, then we took them to overtime. And finally we beat them. Now we see this Trent team, that is our next goal. We’re going to try to get there next year so we can be the ones holding the cup instead of them.”
“Aidan is a great leader,” Longboat says. “Not overly vocal, but he did what he had to do and said something when he had something to say. He’s a fantastic team guy. He will be an offensive star for us next year.”
The eldest of the NOTL contingent on the Badgers, Buis watched many of the others play at Virgil’s Meridian Credit Union Arena through the years, and had the chance to play with some of them for the Holy Cross Raiders in high school.
“I watched them develop, specifically Patterson,” the third-year oenology and viticulture student says, “going from such a little kid when I played with him last time, to being a starter on a university team. And Hunter Ostromecki, seeing him around the arena as a younger kid, and now seeing him playing well in these really big games. It’s cool to see them progress as much as they have.”
Second-year kinesiology student Patterson tried out for the Badgers in 2021 but didn’t make the cut. His father, Gino, says Jaden took it personally, and focused on getting bigger and stronger for 2022.
“I just worked out, kept the stick in my hand, and improved on the things I thought I should improve on,” Jaden says. “Like my shot. I worked out, ate a lot, and I was much more confident coming into the tryouts. I had a different mentality, to just go out there and play.”
“He had the skill set,” Longboat remembers, “but he was small. I remember having that tough conversation with him. He packed on some muscle (in the off-season). Jaden did the work he needed to do. I watched him in the summer, playing box lacrosse for the St. Catharines (Junior B) Athletics. He had a bit of an adjustment coming into the field game, but you could see the difference in his confidence.”
Second-year sports management student Ostromecki did make the cut in 2021, but didn’t get a lot of playing time. He credits the undefeated summer with the Thunderhawks for his improvement heading into this season.
“It really helped me to get ready for the season,” says Ostromecki. “We were a solid team. And there were four of us playing for Brock. About half of the team were from the Niagara Region, and I either played with them or against them in the past. We gelled well.”
Longboat saw a big change in Ostromecki in the fifth game of the season, a 12–4 victory over the Toronto Varsity Blues, during which the midfielder picked up his first goal.
“He did some things in that game that we had never seen from him,” says Longboat. “It’s amazing to watch him play. He has developed that swagger that I would love to see from everybody. He’s a grinder, but a quiet presence, and really coachable, too.”
Trent Hunter, an assistant captain on the Thunderhawks team this past summer, was in his first year with the Badgers.
“He’s another grinder type,” says Longboat of the first-year humanities student. “We used him on defence. He would be on the field about 95 per cent of the game. He’s a great addition to the team. He showed a lot of leadership potential and had a great on-field presence. He’ll be a captain by year three.”
It was also the first year on the Badgers for Joe Fragnito, Jordan Wiens and Nathan Fehr. For Longboat, the prospect of potentially having all seven former Thunderhawks back, as well as all but five of the rest of the roster, bodes well for another run at the cup next year. But he says there is no sure thing.
“I checked my emails Monday and I had 15 new recruits asking me if they could play next year,” Longboat says. “There’s interest in the team, they know we are real. I’ve told all my returning guys that no spot is safe. They need to put in the work to stay on this team.”
“That’s definitely motivating,” Patterson says when told what Longboat said. “It pushes you to work that much harder in the off-season. Every training session has a purpose. Every time in the weight room you have to remember someone could come in there and work harder than you. You have to be prepared, be ready, and really want that spot.”
“I’ll put the work in,” Patterson adds, “and once I get that spot, I’ll continue to work hard. I won’t take any time off.”