This story was published in the Winter 2023 issue of Total Sports Quinte magazine
Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Media
For Tyendinaga’s Caroline Markland, lacrosse is more than just a sport.
“I love lacrosse because it’s always like a release,” she said. “It’s a traditional game, it brings medicine to your body, it’s just refreshing.”
The 14-year-old doesn’t know how else to describe it.
Her mother, Angela, expands on it, saying “it kind of goes back to our values as a community, as being Indigenous.
“Now being here on the reserve and connecting back to our people, we’ve always been taught and talk about how lacrosse is a medicine to your soul.”
Markland enjoys representing her community playing box lacrosse for the Tyendinaga Thunderbirds, including last year for the organization’s U15 girls team. It’s currently the off-season, but the team usually begins practising in April before the season begins in late May and continues through the summer.
“I really enjoyed playing with the girls from where I’m from,” Markland said, noting she also gained some experience with the U17 Thunderbirds last year as well. “I love playing lacrosse with Tyendinaga.”
Her U15 team had a successful 2022 season, including winning gold at a tournament in Kitchener and later in the season capturing the silver medal at the 2022 Ontario Lacrosse Festival provincial championships Aug. 2-4 in Whitby.
She’s not surprised by their success.
“Honestly, it’s all the support we get from our community and our coaching staff,” Markland said. “All of our girls, we all have some type of connection. I don’t know what it is, but even when there’s a new player, it’s like a family almost.”
Her mom, who has helped manage and coach teams, agrees. Angela said sometimes the players don’t ever have strong relationships outside of lacrosse, “but when they go on that floor, just something comes through them and it heals them to come together as a unit and play well together and everybody’s striving for the same goal. It’s really awesome to see how organized sports brings our community together.”
Markland began playing lacrosse about four years ago when she was in Grade 5. She loved that first season and then COVID happened. She didn’t play much for the next two years as her regular box seasons were wiped out in 2020 and 2021.
She did get on the field for six weeks in August 2021 leading into September that year when Quinte Bayhawks Lacrosse president was able to organize some outdoor sessions when some COVID restrictions were lifted. They used box equipment, but focused more on field lacrosse rules with no contact.
Markland was thrilled just to have lacrosse back in some capacity.
“At first it was really tough to not have lacrosse because I always look forward to it,” she said. “I’m always looking forward to practice and the next game.”
She’s always happy to put in extra work honing her skills, including through training camps in the past with Adam Gardner, who runs Next Level Lacrosse in the Durham region.
“It’s mostly field lacrosse based, but he’s really good at what he does,” she said.
Even with some time lost during COVID shutdowns, Markland continues and upward trajectory in her development. Last year she earned a spot on Team Ontario that won the Rose Engemann Trophy at the Lacrosse Canada U15 Girls Box Lacrosse national championship Aug. 15-20 in Langley, B.C.
She gained a lot of independence, first through saying goodbye at the airport which wasn’t easy for mom or daughters. Her parents later watched her play in the tournament, but she still was separated from them as she stayed with her teammates at the dorms.
“That was kind of tough for me because I’ve always had my family right by my side, but I got through it and it ended up being really fun,” Markland said.
It was the perfect opportunity for Markland, especially when you consider how she describes herself as a lacrosse player.
“I really enjoy talking on the floor,” she said. “I like to feel connected to my team and I like to be aggressive and I like to win.”
She gave soccer a try at a young age, but didn’t really care for it. Basketball, too, but the aggressive side didn’t work out so well. Too many fouls, she said.
That will be a challenge as well in field lacrosse, when she plays for the first time this spring at Eastside Secondary School in Belleville.
“In field you can’t hit and I like to be heavy on hits sometimes so that might be a little tough for me,” she said, adding that won’t limit her excitement.
“I’m really looking forward to it because a lot of the same people on Tyendinaga go to Eastside so we’re already going to have that really nice bond. I’m excited to get into field because I’ve never played it and I think it’s going to be a good experience.”
This winter she also tried out for the Ontario U19 girls team that will compete at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) this July in Nova Scotia. She’s heard from others locally who have shared their experiences of participating on such teams, including at a lacrosse camp prior to COVID.
“From that day I’ve always wanted to play in NAIG and now trying out for a U19 which is really exciting,” she said.
Another future goal is to possibly get a scholarship to play field lacrosse in the United States.
2023 is shaping up to be another great year for Markland, whether that’s the U19 tryouts, playing field lacrosse with Eastside, box lacrosse with Tyendinaga or trying out for Team Ontario again.
“I’m just super happy to have the opportunity to be able to chase my dreams and play lacrosse,” she said.