BY DAVID PEDERSEN
In five years the Delano Rage boys lacrosse club program has grown from one team serving two grades to five teams involving players in eight grades.
The program started strong and reached a peak by winning both the varsity and junior varsity state championships for the MBSLA (Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association) in June.
Program president Dan, who also is the head coach for both high school teams, said the program is ready to apply for sanction in the Minnesota State High School League program, hopefully starting next spring.
Delano Rage lacrosse graduated 13 seniors this season, many who were part of the very first club team in 2008 that won the grade 7-8 summer league title.
Students from Rockford are invited to participate in the program that has teams for grades 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 plus high school junior varsity and varsity. Third and fourth graders can practice with the grade 5-6 team "to get started playing and having fun in the sport."
The high school varsity team only lost one game in each of the last two seasons. The team was unbeaten last year before losing to St. Louis Park in the state semifinals. This year the team lost to Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a strong private school program in Faribault, but won the rest.
Delano’s varsity beat St. Louis Park 11-4 in the state title game after defeating defending state champ MontiQuois 11-9 in the semifinals.
The junior varsity won 20-4 over MontiQuois in the semifinals before winning 13-6 over Cretin-Durham Hall in the title game.
Against SLP, the Rage scored first with a goal by midfielder Jack Nelson. Park would answer just 19 seconds later. St. Louis Park would score after each of the next two goals by Delano.
After the Orioles tied the game at 3-3 early in the second quarter, Delano would rattle off six unanswered goals. SLP was making its fifth straight title game appearance.
It was the first title game for Delano and could be the last at the club level after just three varsity seasons if the school board votes to add the sport to the MSHSL system. A presentation will be made a week after the Delano school referendum goes to a vote in November.
"We feel it will be hard for the board to say no because we are in good position financially and we are competitive," adds Willette. "We are ready to move into the state high school league and play against the better teams."
Willette said the lacrosse program has saved money the past few years and can support itself at the MSHSL level.
"We will wait to present our program to the school board until after the referendum because, if a sport is added before the vote, it may affect the board’s decision," said Willette. "We don’t want the referendum to be a reason it doesn’t pass."
Last fall the program sent every club level team to a tournament in Grand Rapids where seven fields were set up on golf course fairways.
"We won four grade championships and only lost two games," said Willette about the 40-program tournament. "One loss was by one goal and the other was in overtime. It was very unusual to dominate with so many teams up there."
The coach said the program’s success is because it develops the players by practicing a lot. In the spring, the ice arena turns into a lacrosse practice facility using artificial turf.
Willette explained how the sport got going in Delano just five years ago. His son Chase had a close friend who moved to Wayzata in eighth grade.
"When Chase would go visit he would attend his friend’s lacrosse game," said Dan. "When he came home one day he said he wanted to play lacrosse. So we helped put together a club team that was coached by Larry Hunter."
Delano won the grade 7-8 club team title that first year. Hunter coached the boys the next two years before starting the girls program last year. This year he got a teaching job at Buffalo where he also took over coaching the boys varsity at the MSHSL level.
"The Delano program developed fast because we put a lot of time into teaching the fundamentals of passing, catching and shooting," said Willette. "We also had a lot of talented athletes at all grade levels."
There are about 100 boys in the program and 45 girls. Willette said the girls may have the brightest future since most of the varsity players are ninth-graders who this year lost the state championship game to Shakopee, a senior-dominated program.
Chase has lacrosse as his only sport because "he loves it so much" according to his father and coach. "He was a hockey goalie growing up but there was not a lot of opportunity in his grade so he became an attacker in lacrosse."
Chase was the leading scorer for Delano this year. Dan says his senior son does well in the sport because he is fearless to go in front of the net when defenders are trying to take his head off.
"He also is able to move in quickly to catch and shoot quickly," adds Dan about is son. "He can beat his defender and is good at moving the ballot the open player."
Willette was held to one goal and an assist in the state title game. Luke Anderson and Jack Nelson each had three goals and Aaron Wagner added two.
The Delano varsity includes Leo Southwick, Nate Praska, Lindsey Wallace, Derek Malecek, Jaison Detweiler, Graham Ylitalo, Grant Prinsen, Derek Lemke, Jake Lorentzen, Paul Hartman, Lucas Anderson, Jered Berg, Andrew Mueller and Jack Nelson.
The junior varsity roster has Zachary Wills, Sawyer Thommes, Chase Beaupre, Jacob Gerecke, Mickey Christians, Nick Walstad, Aaron Wagner, Sean Mallack, Steven Lewis, Nick Pogue, Taylor Carlson, Devin Socher, Aaron Barduson and Michael Dietz.
Jeff Tureson was named assistant varsity coach of the year. Willette was varsity coach of the year last season.
Named to the All-State team was Jaison Detweiler, Jake Lorentzen, Andrew Mueller, Austin Wallace, Chase Willette and Graham Ylitalo. Named to the All-Conference team were Anderson, Paul Hartman, Jack Nelson, Nate Praska and Leo Southwick.
The Delano Rage varsity team won the Western Conference title the last two years.
"We are one of the smallest towns in Minnesota that has lacrosse," adds the coach. "We are most proud of the fact we compete at such a high level."