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Mohawks battle it out at lacrosse fest

The Kahnawake Mohawks U15-1 team poses with their medals after winning the U15 championship at the Ontario Lacrosse Festival on Sunday. Courtesy Kahnawake Mohawks Minor Lacrosse Association

The 2023 Ontario Lacrosse Festival began last Friday, and the Kahnawake Mohawks Minor Lacrosse teams wasted no time making their mark on the tournaments, including the U15 team that took home the championship on Sunday.

The Ontario Lacrosse Festival is a 10-day annual lacrosse competition held by the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) in the Durham Region of Ontario every summer. 

The festival hosts more than 380 teams with athletes aged six to 21 who come together to celebrate the sport and compete for one of the many championships at stake. 

The Kahnawake Mohawks, who have been competing in the OLA since 1992, entered the festival this past weekend as underdogs, with their best team being the 5-6 U17 group. Their two U15 teams had gone 3-9 and 1-8-1 in regular season play prior to the tournament, their U13 team 1-11, their U11 team 4-10, and  their two U9 teams went 2-8 and 0-8 in the regular season as well.

Across the board, the Kahnawake Mohawks were faced with narrow odds to progress deep into the festival’s championship tournaments.

As the U15-1 team’s opening game wound down, a 6-6 tie with the Barrie Bombers, it looked like the Mohawks were indeed slated for an uphill battle at this year’s festival. 

However, the Mohawks U15-1 team would go on to win their next five matches in a row, out-scoring their opponents by a total of 31-15 to close out the tournament and claim the U15 OLA Championship for Kahnawake.

Curtis Diabo, head coach of the U15-1 team, credits the team’s bounce-back to improved conditioning over the course of the season.

“We weren’t in top shape at the start of the season (in April), so we started putting in extra practices, extra workouts, conditioning workouts, and just worked to get everyone in the best shape possible. I know that when we are at our best physically, we can beat anybody they put in front of us,” said Diabo, who is in his first season as coach of the U15-1 team.

Beyond the physical conditioning, Diabo also cites improved team chemistry and strategic developments as keys to the team’s success at the festival.

“Our chemistry was beautiful, we were excellent at our power play and penalty kill, I want to give a lot of credit to our assistant coach Karahkwanoron Two-Axe, he really helped us control our power play,” said Diabo. 

Curtis Diabo’s son, Ronwatsi’tsaienni Diabo, was on the team, and Curtis spoke about not only the pride of being a parent, but the difficulty of balancing that pride with the responsibility of being a coach.

“It was amazing to watch my son win. As a father being a coach it’s kind of hard, sometimes you don’t give them the credit they deserve because you want to be a fair coach, but he worked so hard and so did his teammates, and it was amazing,” said Curtis.

So far, though, the other Mohawks’ teams have struggled to match that success – the U15-2 team was knocked out of the tournament after dropping their first three games, with the U9-2 team doing the same in their tournament.

The U9-1 team mustered a 1-2 record across their first three games, ending with a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the Kitchener Kodiaks. The U13 team was also knocked out after managing two losses and a draw in their first three games. 

However, there is plenty of lacrosse left to play: both the U17 and U11 teams will begin tournament play this Friday, with their eyes set on bouncing back from turbulent regular seasons to bring another championship home to Kahnawake.

This article was originally published in print on Friday, August 11, in issue 32.32 of The Eastern Door.

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