Toronto Rock's Garrett Billings goes airborne during a scoring attempt against the Washington Stealth in the National Lacrosse League's championship game in 2011.

Toronto Rock's Garrett Billings goes airborne during a scoring attempt against the Washington Stealth in the National Lacrosse League's championship game in 2011.

Langley Thunder set to defend title

Senior A lacrosse team ready for Western Lacrosse Association season

The Langley Thunder are in unfamiliar territory.

In the past, the senior A lacrosse team has entered the Western Lacrosse Association season with optimism and hope that this will be their season. But never before have they entered as the defending champions and the team to beat.

And that is where the Thunder find themselves after winning the franchise’s first WLA title last summer, before losing in five games to Brampton in the Mann Cup, Canada’s national championship series.

But the Thunder are not content to sit back and ride the coattails of their 2011 success.

“At the end of last year — and we did tell our players — we are not going to sit on our laurels,” said Langley general manager Gerry Van Beek.

“We are asking them to do better so we want to give the coaching staff and the team the necessary tools.”

The team made a pair of major off-season moves, trading for former league MVP Lewis Ratcliff in April, and then last week, convincing homegrown star Garrett Billings to return to Langley.

Billings, a Langley Minor Lacrosse Association product, spent last summer playing back east. Billings plays during the winter with the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock — he was runner-up for this year’s NLL MVP award after setting a single season record with 82 assists — and he also works in Toronto as a foreign exchange broker.

He has committed to flying to Langley for at least half of the team’s 18 games, and all of the playoffs.

The Thunder opened the 2012 season on Sunday (May 20) in Nanaimo against the Timbermen. They play their home opener on Wednesday (May 23) at the Langley Events Centre against the Burnaby Lakers. Game time is 7:45 p.m. and it is Langley Minor Lacrosse Association night.

Van Beek said Billings will be in the line-up.

Langley opens the season ranked second in the country and the return the bulk of the 2011 team, including leading scorer Athan Iannucci.

Billings (66 goals, 150 points in 31 games), Ratcliff (349 goals, 745 points in 137 games) and Iannucci (193 goals, 389 points in 110 games) combined have nearly 1,300 points combined in 278 career WLA games)

“We know nobody is going to hand us the WLA title, we are going to have to go and take it,” Van Beek said.

“No one is going to make it easy for us.”

The Thunder are similar to 2011 — a fast and attacking team, but bigger, more athletic and more experienced, Van Beek described.