Two members of Team Alberta are representing Airdrie at this week's U19 women's field lacrosse national championships – a tournament known as the Jenny Kyle Cup – from Aug. 15 to 19 in Sherwood Park.
Defender Kiara Crawford is the sole Airdrie-based player on the host team, while her long-time coach and fellow Airdrie resident Lesley Hawke will be watching her games keenly as a member of Team Alberta's coaching staff.
A 2022 W.H. Croxford High School grad, Crawford is excited to vie for gold on home soil at nationals before she heads south to play field lacrosse for the University of Montevallo Falcons – an NCAA Division 2 team in Alabama – this fall.
Crawford said she tried out for the U19 Alberta team in May, finding out in June that she had had survived the final round of cuts. Since then, she's been travelling nearly every weekend to attend team training camps in Calgary, Edmonton, or Red Deer.
“Our team is a great group of girls,” she said of this year's Team Alberta squad. “We’re from all over the province and it’s been really cool to see how everyone came together so quickly.
This year marks the first time in 24 years the Jenny Kyle Cup will be held in Alberta. According to Hawke – who has been coaching field lacrosse in Alberta for 17 years, and moved to Airdrie three years ago – the hosts' main competition will likely be Ontario and B.C.
A former high-level player herself, Hawke was actually on the Ontario team that won gold the last time the U19 women's national championships were held in Alberta, in 1998.
“The fact it’s in Alberta again is really cool for our players,” she said. “It gives us some exposure to Canada lacrosse and it will be neat to represent our province in front of a home crowd.”
If there's anyone who could gauge the strength of Ontario's lacrosse teams, it's Hawke. The native of Whitby, Ont. – a hotbed of Canadian field lacrosse – grew up playing for local and provincial squads before joining Canada's junior national team in 1999.
Hawke then played for Brock University in the early 2000s, while also gaining experience on the other side of the sidelines as a youth coach. While at Brock, she coached the Oshawa Blue Knights girls’ U15 team, winning three provincial championships and earning the Ontario Lacrosse Association's Coach of the Year honour three years in a row.
She moved to Alberta in 2005, quickly getting involved in box and field lacrosse clubs in Calgary while also building up the province's field lacrosse community.
Crawford said it's been a privilege to learn the game from Hawke, who has coached her since 2018.
“She is so experienced,” Crawford said. “She played for Team Canada and in Ontario. She’s coached all levels you can think of and is an amazing person who gets to know her players really well. She has a deep knowledge of the game and it’s cool to play for her.”
Hawke was just as complimentary when asked about Crawford, adding she is one of Alberta's top defenders.
“She’s been playing defence since she started with me back in 2018,” Hawke said. “I was coaching her and she always took defence by the horns.
“It’s been nice for her to take on that role and lead others as well.”
As one of Alberta's only players to not reside in either Calgary or Edmonton, Crawford said making the provincial U19 team and competing at nationals is providing her a unique opportunity to represent her hometown.
“I think the girls representing Team Alberta are amazing athletes and great teammates [and] I’m so thankful to be on the team with them,” she said.
“It’s kind of cool to be the only [player[ from Airdrie. I have a lot of teammates from Calgary and Edmonton but there aren’t a lot of girls from outside of the major cities.”