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Mahtomedi midfielder Nick Lerach pushed past Hill-Murray attacker Davis Zarembinski during the Zephyrs’ 12-3 victory on April 24. Photo by Marisa Wojcik • mwojcik@startribune.com

Getting Blake on the schedule this season was a milestone in itself for Mahtomedi. The east-metro program has had to battle its way into relevance amongst the larger suburban and west-metro private team-driven landscape over the length of its existence.

"We're not respected as a lacrosse team, just because we're such a small public school," two-year captain Ryan Brown said.

That all changed quickly. When the opportunity finally came around this spring to take on Blake on April 21, Brown made sure his team knew what was at stake.

He reminded the seniors that this would be the first time they would be able to play the likes of a Blake, Benilde-St. Margaret's or even a Rosemount during their tenure.

"So I was like, 'Guys, this is our time to build the program,' and we came to the game ready to play," Brown said. "The focus was there, to say the least. I knew we could beat them."

And beat them they did.

The Zephyrs ground out a 5-4 victory over the lacrosse powerhouse in what was described as an emotional, high-speed dogfight. Even the officials told Brown it was one of the more intense high school games they ever had seen.

"I could feel it after the game," said Brown, who scored three of the team's five goals. "The motivation the guys had afterward was unheard of."

That's all you need to know about Brown, an all-state midfielder who carries the team both physically and mentally. He quarterbacks the field and helps run coach Brian Strauss' system through ball possession. Brown and the other midfielders force teams to play half-field offense and allow rest for the team's defense, the backbone to the Zephyrs' early success.

Mahtomedi's defensive play has allowed only 4.4 goals per game through the season's first five games.

Kevin Bowditch is the lynchpin of a large defensive front. He's the anchor, leading the team in ground balls and occasionally moving up to the wing to help pick up the ball and bring it into transition.

Bowditch held Stillwater attackman and All-America Samuel Mathieu to zero points, and then kept Blake attackman and all-state player Al Barnhart to one point.

"He's just bigger and stronger than anybody else -- and faster," Strauss said. "He's kind of a beast. He's been able to pick up ground balls amongst two or three guys on the other team."

Bowditch is one of several big and athletic defensemen who exhibit an unorthodox style of play. The Zephyrs are constantly doubling up on the ball-carrier, which is considered more of a college-style defense. Their goal is to create turnovers by showcasing their athletic ability in a disciplined, well-communicated system.

"Controlled chaos, more or less," Strauss laughed. "We let them loose. We want to pressure the ball-carrier and make the other team have to make decisions rather than sit back and let them attack us."

The formula is working wonders for Mahtomedi, which has earned some respect in the lacrosse community. The Zephyrs have cracked the top 10 state rankings and don't appear to be letting up soon. 

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