After finishing in top spot in the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League, the Kelowna Raiders had visions of a long and prosperous summer playoff run.
Much to their chagrin, the Raiders’ 2013 campaign ended abruptly this week at the hands of the defending champion Kamloops Venom.
The Venom edged the Raiders 6-5 on Wednesday night in Kamloops, taking the best-of-five semifinal series in five games.
The Venom, who struggled early in the season, hit their stride in time for the playoffs and the Raiders didn’t have an answer.
“We played well, our most complete game of the series (Wednesday) but we just couldn’t get the breaks or the goals when we needed them,” said Raiders head coach Travis Wray. “Kamloops really tightened up on defense and our top guns didn’t produce the way we had hoped.”
Evan Helgesen scored twice, while Andrew McMillan, Jaman Heslop and Ryley MacLennan added singles for the Raiders who won Game 1 of the series, only to lose the last three against a determined Kamloops squad.
“Ultimately, what it came down to was offensively (the Venom) really attacked our net, they won the loose balls and face-offs, and had the edge in possession,” Wray said. “In lacrosse, possession is such a huge part of the game.”
Even with the early exit, the 2013 season was a vast improvement for the Raiders (12-3-1) who won just four games last year en route to missing the playoffs.
“It was a really good turnaround year for us,” Wray said. “Considering we had seven new guys in the lineup, we’re happy with how competitive we were.
“Our 20-year-olds were great role models, I loved the effort we got from our veteran guys…it was a great year.”
For Wray’s part, it just may be his last season as head coach of the Raiders. The former Raiders’ player has spent the last eight years behind the junior team’s bench and is currently weighing his options.
“It might be time to get a new face and new voice in there,” said Wray. “It’s a long time for the same guy to be giving the same speeches. More than ever, I’m thinking of stepping down.”
Wray expects to decide on his status as the club’s coach by the end of the summer.
Meanwhile, the Venom will face the Vernon Tigers in the best-of-five TOJLL final.
The Kelowna Raiders will visit the Armstrong Shamrocks Friday in Game 2 of their Thompson Okanagan Senior Lacrosse League opening-round playoff series.
The Raiders lead the best-of-three 1-0 after an 8-5 victory in the series opener on Wednesday at Memorial Arena.
The Raiders got on the board early in the first with three quick goals, then held off the Rocks the rest of the way. Outstanding goaltending by Graham Cousins and a stellar performance by Kelowna’s speedsters Matt Gorges, Darcy Leach and Ryan Sage both offensively and defensively, led the Raiders to victory.
Kelowna’s scoring was led by Matt Georges and Pho Heng with two goals each, while Braden Renner, Jordan Innes, Chris Phillips and Darcy Leach added singles.