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Jr. Bandits to play in Jr. NLL Tourney

The Buffalo Bandits often take a back seat to the Bills and Sabres in terms of Buffalo’s professional sports franchises. In a month, with football season still not officially underway and the hockey season a few months from puck drop, the Bandits will have center stage, but it will be the Junior Bandits putting on the performance.

The Buffalo Junior Bandits will participate in the second annual Junior NLL Tournament hosted by the Toronto Rock Aug. 29-31 at the Toronto Rock Athletic Center in Oakville, Ontario.

The Bandits sent a Pee Wee and Bantam team to the inaugural tournament last year. The Colorado Junior Mammoth defeated the Toronto Junior Rock in the Peewee final last year. The Rock was able to avenge the loss to the Mammoth in the bantam division as the host team stopped Colorado from taking a clean sweep with a 10-7 victory.

This year’s Bandits team features a few players from the Hamburg area, and is led by Frontier defenseman Justin Zwawa. The soon-to-be junior has been trying to take a leadership role with his new summer team, which is vital with such little time to prepare for the games.

“It’s a different feeling (playing with a different team),” Zwawa said. “The team gets along pretty well. I’ve been trying to take control and be a leader but all the kids get along. They all want to play lacrosse. They just want to win, to get better and to win.”

The team practices once or twice a week at the First Niagara Center and is beginning to come together despite the short time with each other, and the new style of play, which pits all players with short sticks on a smaller field. It’s much different than the outdoors and bigger fields that they are so accustomed to.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s a little different because we’re all so used to field lacrosse,” Zwawa said. “This is box lacrosse. It’s a lot different because everyone is using short sticks. The coaches have been great”

Most of the players on the Junior Bandits’ roster have some familiarity with one another with most having played with the local club team Champion. The club team, ran by Joe Smith, who is also the coach of the Junior Bandits, is now one of the top club teams in the nation. Mainly consisting of kids from the Western New York area, Smith consistently has anywhere from 250 to 300 kids try-out for multiple teams that Champions Lacrosse runs.

The Champions team is invited to many of the top lacrosse tournaments throughout the country. They have traveled to three of the top tournaments in the United States and have traveled to top lacrosse areas such as Maryland and Philadelphia.

Zwawa is not the only player from the Hamburg area that is on the Junior Bandits. Trey Patrun, Owen Bean, and Kurt Eschner, all teammates of Zwawa at Frontier, play on the Junior Bandits while Nate Quinn (Timon), Josh Plarr (Eden), and Dan Lafferty (Canisius) have also joined the team.

All the players are aware of what to expect when they make their way across the border in a month. They’re expecting a fast-paced and physical game, something that they won’t shy away from.

“(We’re expecting) a lot of physicality,” Zwawa said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a fast-paced game. I expect the most from this team that we’re playing on.”

Zwawa has been a varsity player at Frontier since his freshman season. The defenseman is hoping that a run in this summer tournament with the Junior Bandits and Champion team will translate into an even more successful junior season in school.

His plan to play lacrosse won’t end with a high school diploma. Zwawa wants to continue playing at the collegiate level and has already looked at schools like Canisius and Roberts Wesleyan as possible choices.

The Bandits will send three different teams to this year’s event and they hope it can result in a championship or multiple championships coming back to a city that most desperately needs one. Instead of it being the Bills or Sabres bringing that title home, however, it will be a group of kids wearing the name of their city on the front of their jerseys.

They are all thankful for the opportunity the Bandits have afforded them, along with their sponsor Under Armor, and want to make the most of their opportunities.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity that the Bandits organization has given us,” Zwawa said. “I know that my teammates are as well, but now we have to go to Canada and represent them well. We are preparing and expecting to showcase our talents as a team.”
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