Rosemount’s Maddie Johnson pulled back to score against Burnsville. Johnson leads the Irish in scoring with 14 of the team’s first 23 goals. Star Tribune photo
The Irish Sports Dome in Rosemount has been a crown jewel for south metro sports teams to covet since its inflation a decade ago. Plenty of Irish teams and activities call the dome home, and for the first time this season, the girls’ lacrosse team has the place to itself.
Six years after Rosemount and Eagan formed a cooperative program, the teams ventured out on their own this spring.
“It’s a pride thing,” Irish tri-captain Cassie Miller said. “We lost a lot of good players from Eagan, but we’re building up our own team now and that is pretty cool. Just saying 'Rosemount' and not 'Eagan/Rosemount' is exciting.”
Talk of splitting the Wild Irish program in two had been an “ongoing discussion” the last few years, Rosemount coach Jeff Smith said. Had the teams stayed as one this season, tryouts would have involved more than 70 players.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Smith, coach of the Eagan/Rosemount co-op for two years. “It’s good for the kids to have their identity and have their affiliation with one school. We needed to go this route.
“But the bitter part is it was really remarkable how well the kids from both schools got along the last two years. There wasn’t a lot of work on my part for that. The kids did it themselves.”
To accommodate games and practices on two fields, the booster club helped coordinate carpools for younger players or those without access to a car.
The camaraderie bled onto the field, as the seventh-seeded Wild Irish knocked off the second and third seeds in last year’s Section 3 tournament before falling to Bloomington Jefferson in the championship game.
But it’s a new year with a new focus.
Miller and fellow captains Maddie Johnson and Sydney Lubeley lead a group of eight returning players from that over-achieving team. But leading scorer and clutch playoff performer Simone Haugen, who scored with 15 seconds remaining to stun No. 2 seed Lakeville North last season, is at home in Eagan.
Johnson has stepped into the scorer’s role. She put in 14 of the first 23 goals of the season for the Irish, who started 2-0 before dropping two games last weekend.
“The intensity has been up there,” Johnson said. “The fundamentals are still a work in progress with a lot of new girls in the program, but we’re getting better at that. We’re our own team now, and that is a good thing. This is a close-knit group.”
That’s hardly a knock on the former co-op team, whose players had little to no trouble acting as one cohesive group.
“A lot of us were sad to leave Eagan,” Johnson said. “We built a lot of friendships.”
A May 8 home game at Rosemount will be something special, when the Wildcats come to town for the first time wearing their road jerseys.
Mention of the game elicits a round of smiles and anticipation from Rosemount’s three captains.
“Awkward,” Miller said.
“Fun but competitive,” added Lubeley.
“We’ve already thought about the handshake at the end,” Johnson said.
The coaches are into it too.
Eagan coach Kerry Blaine works as an industrial technology teacher and has whipped up a traveling trophy for the first-year teams to play for this year and going forward.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure he’s got something great for us,” said Smith, before tightening his coach cap. “Hopefully the kids will just focus on the game and forget about everything else; save the fun trash-talking for before and after the game.”