CHANHASSEN — It wasn’t the trophy Stillwater was chasing when the girls’ lacrosse state tournament began, but the Ponies captured the hardware at stake in the third-place game while holding off second-seeded Prior Lake 7-6 in steamy conditions on Saturday, June 18 at Chanhassen High School.
The fourth-seeded Ponies (17-2), who similar to a year ago were stopped by eventual state champion Eden Prairie in the semifinals, bounced back this year to finish third for the second time in the past three seasons. Stillwater, which has finished fourth or higher at state each of the past six years, delivered a stronger showing in this year’s third-place game.
“It feels beyond amazing to end my senior season like this,” goaltender Katie Lottsfeldt said. “It was a big deal to all of us. Coming out of that (semifinal) game last year, our hearts were definitely in the third-place game but our heads just weren’t there. We kind of broke down after the Eden Prairie game last year.”
The Ponies jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Lakers (16-3), who defeated Stillwater 8-7 in overtime in the second game of the season. The Ponies reeled off 15 straight wins since that loss before falling to the Eagles 15-14 in the semifinals — a loss which only made them more determined to finish the season on a high note.
“I just had the sense when we came on the field we were ready to play and I felt our energy was higher,” Ponies coach Rick Reidt said. “I think our team, once we got over that loss, we re-set our goals to win third place and they were very focused on what they wanted.”
Senior Carly Fedorowski scored two of Stillwater’s first three goals and finished with four to lead all scorers. Abby Hagberg and Caitlin Carter also notched a goal each in the first half as the Ponies built a 4-2 advantage.
Carter struck again six minutes into the second half and Fedorowski’s third and fourth tallies extended Stillwater’s lead to 7-3. The Ponies never trailed, but had to withstand a late charge from the Lakers after they scored three in a row to pull within a goal with less than a minute remaining.
“Against a good, athletic team, it’s hard to run off time,” Reidt said. “It’s hard to go more than a minute-and-a-half or two minutes without the ball going back to them. It’s a part of our game we’ve been working on, but it’s not something we had to do a lot during the season. It’s just hard to hold the ball for a long period of time.”
The hard-fought victory was a welcome reward after competing in hot and humid conditions — and even moreso for Hagberg, who played despite suffering an AC joint (shoulder) separation late in the game against Eden Prairie.
“It was so hot, my feet were literally melting,” said Haberg, who was not interested in watching from the sidelines. “It’s really painful, but I’m a lefty so it’s easier because I can keep this one low. I didn’t want to miss the last game.”
“She’s a very determined, tough person,” Reidt added. “She’s had this injury before and she kind of knew where she was at and it wasn’t going to get worse. She’s just a tough person and she was determined to play and performed very well.”
The heat was even worse for the goaltenders, but Lottsfeldt remained steady while making 11 saves.
“It’s the position I picked, so I got to deal with everything that comes with it,” Lottsfeldt said. “It was very, very hot during warm-ups. Then I put the helmet on top of that and it just adds another five pounds to everything when you’re running. It’s just exhausting, but it’s totally worth it when you win.”
The senior reserved praise for the players directly in front of her on a team where nobody takes a break defensively.
“I’ve been blessed to have the best defensemen for the past the past three years and every year when we lose one, they just continue to step up and just do absolutely fantastic,” Lottsfeldt said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have them in front of me.”
The Ponies controlled the ball for much of the early part of the game while building a lead and even when Prior Lake gained possession Stillwater quickly got it back while holding the Lakers scoreless until midway through the first half.
“I thought Prior Lake did a great job in their settled defense,” Reidt said. “On the other hand, when they got the ball, we typically got it back before it got to our end, especially in the first half. That’s the strength of our team is transition defense.
“They’re a high-scoring team and they have high-profile attackers. To hold them to six goals means we played great defense. We had the ball quite a bit more than they did, percentage-wise. We were happy with the defense.”
With junior Olivia Konigson — who joined Fedorowski for the Ponies in being named to the 12-player All-Tournament Team — taking the face-offs, Stillwater won 8 of 12 draws in the game and that paid dividends.
“The main thing is which team controlled the ball,” Reidt said. “If we won 8 of 12, that’s huge and that’s the key to any close game, especially when you get down towards the end.”
The earlier meeting this season was also tight the whole way, though Stillwater drew confidence from knowing Hagberg did not play in that game and Fedorowski was limited to just 10 minutes.
“That’s a lot of speed, a lot of transition defense and scoring power,” Reidt said.
Eden Prairie with four and Blake with six have maintained a firm grip on the title in the 10 years since the MSHSL started sponsoring a state lacrosse tourney.
Lakeville North in 2013 and Lakeville South in 2015 remain the only teams other than Blake and Eden Prairie to appear in the state finals, but the gap is narrowing. The two semifinal games and the first- and third-place games were each decided by two goals or less.
“I think it’s getting closer,” Reidt said. “Teams are catching up to Blake and Eden Prairie. Last year Blake was not in the final game and we certainly could have been, just like this year. The top five and six are getting closer and closer and I think the state tournament overall, the eight teams were stronger this year.”
“I think we’re really happy with the season,” added Hagberg, who was among the newcomers for the Ponies playing in their first state tournament. “We worked together as a whole team.”
Stillwater 4 3 — 7
Prior Lake 2 4 — 6
Goals — St, Carly Fedorowski 4, Caitlin Carter 2 and Abby Hagberg; PL, Lexi Peer 2, Aleah Fjelstad, Kelly Gleason, Ashley Norberg and Sarah Pierson.
Assists — St, Gina Jablonski; PL, none.
Saves — St, Katie Lottsfeldt 11; PL, Claire Hagen 8.