Two Okotoks minor lacrosse graduates had their names called by the top two Jr. A lacrosse teams in the province this week.
Okotokians Justin Rea and Cole Morris were selected by the rival Calgary Mountaineers and Okotoks Raiders, respectively, in the 2022 Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League Jr. A Draft, held Jan. 31 at Calgary’s Acadia Rec Centre.
“I’m just looking back and thinking, ‘I’ve wanted to be here for my whole life,’” said Rea, a Grade 10 student at Holy Trinity Academy. “I’ve just wanted to play for a junior team, especially a Jr. A team, it will be great.”
Though there’s two potential landing spots for southern Alberta players, Rea, the second-round pick seventh overall, had a pretty good sense which way the wind was blowing on draft night.
“We all kind of knew where we were going so the stress was mostly gone,” Rea said. “Lately, I’ve worked out with Cody (Mounties head coach Cody Hawkins) a few times and was also going to his pre-draft floor times and he’s been texting me quite a bit and we’ve been talking.
“There was a lot of kids on the team and people even off the team saying I’m going to be going there because the coach really likes me.”
Rea said his dedication and how hard he’s working to be on the team is some of the positive feedback he received from the Mounties brass.
“When I was young I always wanted to go to (the Raiders) because they were the home team (in Okotoks) and used to always watch them,” Rea said. “But as I grew up and started watching the Mounties I never wanted to not go with them.”
Both Calgary-based teams have been the class of the four-team Jr. A division for the better part of the past 15 years.
The Jr. A division has been significantly curtailed over the past two seasons with the Raiders owning the three most recent league championships from 2017-19.
From 2011-17 the Raiders and Mountaineers exchanged championships with no repeat titles prior to Okotoks breaking the streak.
“I’ve always been a Raider guy, they were my preference,” said Morris, the Raiders’ fourth-round selection, 13thoverall. “They were here in Okotoks, my dad has known people who have been Raiders. My dad was a Mountie back in the 70s, but he still wanted me to become a Raider and I wanted to be a Raider.”
Morris was in communication with Raiders general manager Andrew McBride as well as Hawkins over social media in the lead-up to the draft.
Given the limited opportunities for exposure, the combine held just days before the draft night was a big showcase opportunity for everyone involved.
And Morris is no exception.
“I think I showed well and I got a bunch of compliments, especially from McBride and I think that reflected in where I placed in the draft,” Morris said.
“I’m more of an offensive guy, not the biggest or strongest guy ever, but I think I’m pretty smart, know the game pretty well and how to get in and out, work in tight and score a bunch of goals.”
The 16-year-old has been able to develop at a high-level in both lacrosse and hockey as a member of the Okotoks U18 AA Oilers, a program which features daytime programming for the first time this season.
“The Oilers head coach Colten Hayes was actually a Raider a while ago so he understands what’s going on and he’s always talking about how things are going,” Morris said. “It’s pretty easy to balance it with that daytime program, hockey in the morning, go to school and then I have lacrosse at night.
“Especially with it integrating into the school it’s really helping me become a better athlete and student athlete.”
During the pandemic, Morris has looked for floor times whenever and wherever he can find them amidst the turbulent period at times on team sports.
“The use of social media has definitely helped,” he said. “I’ve seen all the advertisements for floor times through Instagram, but it was really difficult especially in the summer, we only had a few games and I know it must have been pretty hard for the scouts to pick out and find the guys.
“You would usually have scouted for multiple years and they had six-ish months to find who they wanted.”
Rea took a similar approach and got creative when it came to finding ways to train under unusual circumstances.
“Just being able to go outside and throw the ball around on a wall,” he said. “I got my own net for Christmas so I was able to shoot around and just keeping the stick in my hands.”
For more information go to rockymountainlax.com.