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Rams players earn coveted Jr. Roughnecks roster spots

Four U15 athletes are set to represent the region at an elite national showcase in Ontario
From left to right, Jr. Roughnecks players Charlie Graham, Eric Rudneski, Liam James and Bryder Ibsen at their white hat ceremony in Okotoks. HEATHER ROUSE/ Supplied

A quartet of young lacrosse stars from the St. Albert U15 Rams program are marking a significant milestone in their athletic careers.

Players Charlie Graham, Bryder Ibsen, and Liam James, all 14 years old, together with Eric Rudneski, also 14, of the Fort Saskatchewan Rebels and currently playing with the Rams, have scored spots on the prestigious Jr. Roughnecks roster. Now, the four are eagerly preparing for a forthcoming high-profile international competition.

The Jr. Roughnecks team, hailed as one of the premier lacrosse experiences in the country, will compete at the ninth annual Jr. National Lacrosse League (NLL) tournament. Hosted at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, Ont., the international event runs Aug. 18-20.

Heather Rouse, the vice-president of the St. Albert Rams Lacrosse Club, praised the four.

“They all did incredibly well,” she says, noting the group’s North Zone team finished in the top three of their league during the regular season.

The Jr. NLL Roughnecks program, according to Rouse, is an integral part of the NLL's broader initiative.

"All of the NLL teams across North America endeavour to put in teams in all three age groups [U13, U15, and U17]. They try to fill their rosters from kids around their areas,” she said.

The tournament offers a unique chance for young players to compete on the international stage, all while playing by NLL rules.

Securing a spot on the Roughnecks roster is no easy feat, with the selection process occurring through a series of tryouts. Graham earned one of two goalie spots out of 10 goalies trying out from across Alberta. The three runners each earned one of 18 open positions, out of 40 runners trying out.

The team, now formed, has been practising diligently since early July, putting in three to four hours each week in Calgary.

"Charlie and Bryder both made this team last year as two of the only three 2009 kids who made that team. They had such a great experience that they encouraged their teammates to try out this year," Rouse said. 

For Graham, the selection process was an intense but invaluable experience.

"It was stressful for sure but some of the best lacrosse I have ever played in my life — so many talented people all playing together under one roof trying to get on a single team. It's a real challenge, but so worth it," he said. 

“It was a rigorous tryout period over the course of a few days, but it is a lot of fun, and the coaches are amazing,” said Ibsen.

Beyond individual triumph, Graham is eager to use this opportunity as a beacon for those around him.

"It makes me proud to represent my community," he said. "I love working with the young kids, and opportunities like this are great for young players to work towards. Also, the experience of trying out is an important skill to learn. Ultimately, anything I can do to help grow the game makes me happy."

And while this tournament is a stepping stone for junior players who still have a lot of developing to do, the end goal is clearly within sight.

“I feel this is a great achievement to help me with my goal to become a pro NLL player,” said Ibsen, who has been playing the sport for a decade. 

“Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life," he said. "It is an amazing sport that helps build confidence and skills that go beyond just the game.”

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