The groundswell had begun, but it was still a time when lacrosse was about as foreign to those in town as making all of the green lights in either direction of Highway 169.
Few had ever heard of such things.
“In a lot of ways we started from nothing,” said Champlin Park boys lacrosse head coach Eric Borer. “But you look at it, and the growth in our community has been so huge. And now these guys are reaping the rewards. It is a heck of a night.”
To a greater extent, it was an evening never before experienced in Champlin Park lacrosse.
In the matter of five hours June 5 at Irondale High School, both the boys and girls lacrosse teams qualified for their first state tournament appearance.
The boys needed a last minute goal from Max Turgeon and a gutsy overtime play from Conner Smith to shock top-seeded Blaine with a 12-11 victory in their Section 7 championship game.
And that was after the girls rode a 12-save masterpiece from goaltender Kelsey Spoden to fend of No. 1 seed Coon Rapids 8-5 in their Section 7 title game appearance.
In both cases, an eruption of emotion would cap the memorable night.
Especially for those that remember those days way back when on the Mississippi river banks at Galloway Park.
“It is incredible to think about when we used to play there, and what started there,” said girls head coach Brian Finnvick. “To see it then, and to see this now, it is awfully special.”
Smith ends boys rally
The medal had broken off the ribbon presented to Smith. A quick fix would repair it.
But a short while earlier, in a pile of bodies just in front of the Blaine goal, the senior had broken something else; something that might not ever be prepared.
Just this past winter, in the semifinals of the Section 5AA boys hockey tournament, Champlin Park had pulled the upset of the postseason with a 5-4 victory punctuated by a last-minute goal that sent heavily favored Blaine home early from the hockey playoffs.
The night before the two schools met again in the Section 7 boys lacrosse championship game, Blaine head lacrosse coach Josh Swart replayed that game for his team, which was comprised primarily of hockey players still devastated by what had transpired in the winter.
Swart’s message was obvious.
“He wanted to fire them up I’m sure,” said Borer. “It looked like it worked there for a while. But our kids (many of them hockey players as well) found a way. We broke their hearts again.”
There were times Champlin Park’s eventual victory didn’t look too good.
The Rebels would trail much of the first quarter, 6-4 at the half and 8-4 just over two minutes into the third quarter.
“No one messes with our family,” Smith said. “When we were down 8-4, that is what if felt like. Some of the guys were getting pretty emotional. We just knew we had to get after it, and somehow, it worked out.”
Gage Monson scored to cut the deficit to 8-5. Then Luke Dalman netted a pair. And 67 seconds after facing a four-goal hole, Champlin Park was down just 8-7.
Blaine made it 9-7, but then Dylan Saline scored for the Rebels to get the score to 9-8. Again, Blaine pushed the advantage to two late in the third. But before the quarter would end, Smith netted his second of the night to make it 10-9.
The Rebels would even the score at 10-10 on Smith’s hat trick goal at 5:54 of the fourth. Blaine still wouldn’t go away, as the Bengals scored again at 6;38 of the quarter to go up 11-10.
Blaine then ended up with the ball with two minutes left in regulation. The possession would last until just 42 seconds remained, when Adam Cotrell forced a turnover deep in his own territory.
Champlin Park got the ball back, and then waited until Turgeon forced overtime with just 12.4 seconds to play.
Evan Schraut then won the opening draw of overtime, and after a deft timeout from Borer, Smith burrowed his way through the Blaine defense to bounce in the game-winner.
“Coach put me on the spot and I got it done,” said Smith. “We knew what we had to do. Our family wasn’t going to be denied. We knew once we tied it and got to overtime that is was our game to lose, and there was no way that was going to happen.”
Growth defines girls
There were going to be mistakes. Probably a number of them. The season was upon the Champlin Park girls lacrosse team, and much had yet to be determined.
A lineup needed to be solidified, roles had to be defined and confidence implemented.
Yet, that was no issue for the Rebels. They knew, even in an weather-forced abbreviated spring season, they had time.
“All along, we just wanted to have everything figured out and everyone playing their best by the section tournament,” said Finnvick. “We had kind of a shaky start to the year, and that was fine. We knew what we were preparing for.”
Despite heading into the postseason with just a 6-5 regular season record, which included a 7-5 loss to Coon Rapids May 15, Champlin Park is a first time state tournament participant.
The Rebels suffocated the Cardinals defensively, limiting the top-seed in the Section 7 tournament to a season low five goals, a number junior midfielder Marjorie McNamara nearly equalled herself on the other end.
McNamara scored four times for Champlin Park, and Riley Abeysekera, Delaney Everett and Maddy Scheinost netted one each to back up a 12-save performance from Spoden in goal.
“We got a lead early in the game, and that did calm us down a little bit,” said Spoden. “That let us just relax and play our game.”
Their game was crisp, especially on the back-end of the field.
The Rebel defenders limited most of the opportunities to the perimeter. But when a breakdown did occur, Spoden was usually there.
“In lacrosse, there are so many momentum swings, but we really didn’t give up the momentum the entire game,” said Finnvick. “It was on our side from the start, and really, Kelsey helped keep it there. She made so many amazing saves.”
For both teams, the fun is just beginning.
Pairings for the boys and girls state lacrosse tournament were released June 7.
The Champlin Park boys (12-2) were rewarded with the No. 3 seed – the top five teams in both tournaments are seeded – and were scheduled to open up against Totino-Grace ((9-5) at 1 p.m. June 11 at Chaska High School.
The top seed in the boys tournament went to Eden Prairie (15-0), which plays Rochester Mayo (11-4) in the quarterfinals.
The other two quarterfinal games feature No. 2 Eastview (12-3) against Orono (12-3) and No. 4 White Bear Lake (14-1) vs. No. 5 Blake (10-5).
The tournament semifinals are scheduled for 5 and 7 p.m. Thursday, June 13 at Chanhassen High School, and the title game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Chanhassen.
The Champlin Park girls (9-5) didn’t receive a seed and will face top-seeded Eden Prairie (15-1) in the quarterfinal round at 5 p.m. June 11 at Chanhassen High School.
The other three quarterfinal games are No. 2 Blake (13-3) vs. Robbinsdale Armstrong (14-1), No. 3 Stillwater (14-2) vs. Elk River (13-3) and No. 4 Lakeville North (12-4) vs. No. 5 Burnsville (14-1).
The girls semifinal games will be played at 5 and 7 p.m Thursday, June 13 at Chaska High School, with the final slated for 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Chanhassen High School.
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]