CHANHASSEN — A model of consistency the past three years, Stillwater finished fourth in the girls’ lacrosse state tournament after falling to Eden Prairie 13-8 in the third-place game on Saturday at Chanhassen High School.
In a game that was suspended by more than two hours early in the second half because of storms, the top-seeded Eagles (17-2) scored five unanswered goals in the final seven minutes of the game to break an 8-all tie and pull away for the victory.
“They’re just a good team. They have been rated No. 1 all year,” said Ponies coach Rick Reidt, who said the weather delay did not deter his veteran squad. “That didn’t affect our team in a negative way. We’re a mature, senior-led group and they were able to handle that. We got ready to play again.”
This marked the first time in the eight years since the Minnesota State High School League began sponsoring the state tournament that Eden Prairie and Blake did not meet in the finals. Blake, which defeated the Ponies 13-8 in the semifinals, topped fourth-seeded Lakeville North 13-11 in the finals to win its sixth championship, but the Panthers provided evidence of growing parity in the fledgling sport.
“I do think the gap is closing,” Reidt said. “Lakeville North beat Eden Prairie and our game against Eden Prairie was a competitive game. We have a good team where we can play with anybody, but Eden Prairie is a great team and you have to be completely on your game to beat them. I think lacrosse in Minnesota is becoming better all around and our team has certainly kept pace. We felt we played competitive games at the state tournament. We had a win at the state tournament so that’s a big plus for our program. After you get rid of the pain of the loss, our team feels good about their accomplishments.”
Stillwater’s only four losses this season came against Eden Prairie and Blake, losing once each to both teams in the regular season and the state tournament. The Ponies (15-4) went undefeated while winning the Suburban East Conference and also breezed through the Section 4 tournament to earn another trip to the state tournament, which was expanded to included eight teams this year for the first time.
“I think it was a successful season,” Reidt said. “Our goal was to win the state championship and we fell short of that, but that’s not ultimately how we measure success. The girls worked harder and did more things than any team we’ve had because they have such high goals and they can feel good about that type of effort.”
That effort included overcoming a five-goal deficit after a low-scoring opening half when the Eagles took a 3-2 lead before play was suspended two minutes into the second half. Stillwater tied the game almost immediately after play resumed when Katie Casto scored the second of her two goals less than four minutes into the second half.
Eden Prairie, however, reeled off five straight goals to surge in front 8-3 — a stretch that included three straight goals by Anna Johnson and tallies by Jessica Lagerquist and Emma Claire Fontenot. The Ponies responded quickly while scoring five straight goals themselves in less than three minutes to even the score at 8-all with seven minutes remaining.
Carter Sanderson scored with 9:26 remaining to start the comeback for Stillwater while Emma Wiessner and Kate Sheely scored just 17 seconds apart to pull within 8-6 with 8:22 remaining. Dana Almquist, who was plagued by a shoulder injured suffered in the semifinals, scored at 7:31 and Wiessner struck again 20 seconds later as the Ponies tied the game at 8-all.
“We took a timeout and made some changes,” Reidt said after Eden Prairie’s first five-goal outburst. “We had been doing well anyway, but put Almquist at center draw and helped us after it started getting away from us.”
Almquist was the state’s top scorer this season, but held to just one goal on Saturday.
“She played well, but she could only use her left hand to hold the bottom of the stick and normally she has the use of both hands,” Reidt said. “She’s a strong person and she fought through the pain — just like the rest of our team, she really left it all on the field.”
Starting with about five minutes remaining, the Eagles scored three straight goals to move in front 11-8 and added two more insurance goals later to provide the final margin.
“We were doing some things to try and get the ball back and they scored a few at the end to pad their lead a little bit,” Reidt said.
Stillwater won 15 of 23 center draws, but the Eagles outshot the Ponies 27-16.
Wiessner added two assists while joining Casto and Sanderson with two goals apiece.
Ponies goaltender Marie Bonine, who was on crutches and did not practice on Friday after sustaining an ankle injury in the final moments of the Blake game, finished with nine saves against the Eagles.
“Both Dana and Marie played great, all of our seniors played their very best,” Reidt said. “We improved all aspects of our game against Eden Prairie and that was the focus of our game. We made a lot of mistakes in the Blake game, but we played our best (against the Eagles) and just got beat by a really good team.”
n Following the conclusion of the championship game, three Ponies were selected to the All-Tournament Team. Players honored from Stillwater include Marie Bonine, Kate Sheely and Carter Sanderson.
n Each of Stillwater’s all-state players are slated to participate in Tuesday’s girls’ lacrosse all-star game at Cretin-Derham Hall, which starts at 7 p.m. Ponies selected to compete are Kate Sheely, Marie Bonine, Dana Almquist, Katie Casto, Emma Wiessner and Remi Larson.
Stillwater 2 6 — 8
Eden Prairie 3 10 — 13
Goals — St, Carter Sanderson 2, Emma Wiessner 2, Katie Casto 2, Kate Sheely and Dana Almquist; EP, Anna Johnson 4, Emma Claire Fontenot 4, Jessica Lagerquist 3, Annie Thul and Heidi Colford.
Assists — St, Wiessner 2; EP, Johnson 3, Fontenot and Thul.
Saves — St, Marie Bonine 9; EP, McKenzie Johnson 5.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com