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Blake strikes a pose after winning its third straight state championship and fourth in six years. Photo by Helen Nelson

When Blake and Eden Prairie get together for their annual state championship showdown (we’re at six years and counting), the game morphs from girls lacrosse to something altogether different.
 
The living, breathing, running, whack-each-other-with-our-sticks chess match always starts with a series of predictable moves. 
 
Eden Prairie takes out Blake’s top scorer. The Bears do the same with the Eagles’ best player. Eden Prairie neutralizes another top offensive threat. Blake counters by doing the same. And on and on they go.
 
“Faceguarding” is the lacrosse term for Krazy Glueing a defender to the opposition’s most dangerous offensive player. The Eagles and Bears execute the strategy exceedingly well when it comes time to play for the title.
 
With both teams’ big guns effectively silenced, the scoring burden always falls to a lesser known player. The only question is who?
 
Meet Blake junior midfielder Nicole Kozlak. 
 
Also a soccer standout on a Blake state championship team, the speedy Kozlak knows all about big-game pressure.
 
“I had confidence in her being out there,” Blake coach Laura Mark said after Kozlak scored four goals to lead the Bears to an 11-10 upset over top-ranked, top-seeded and previously unbeaten Eden Prairie on Thursday, June 7, at Chanhassen High School. “I knew she wasn’t going to be rattled. She’s a great athlete.
 
“I’m not surprised, but I wasn’t necessarily betting on it.”
 
The diminutive Kozlak score 16 goals during the regular season to rank fourth on the No. 2-ranked and second-seeded Bears (16-2), then added six more in three section playoff games. She used her speed to knife through the Eden Prairie defense concerned more with stopping Blake stars Meghan Bauer and Lydia Sutton.
 
“Yeah, Coach Mark told us it’s like we’re the little ones in this game, we are going to be left open, we are going to be forgotten, so we just have to make those chances count,” said Kozlak, who missed a free shot with 13 seconds left in the first half, but redeemed herself in the second half by converting another free-shot opportunity.
 
“(Kozlak) asked me, she was like, ‘Meg, what do I do? What do I do when there is a free shot? I keep missing them,’ ” said Bauer, who scored twice and added two assists. “I was like, ‘No, Nicole, just keep shooting. You’ll get it.’ 
 
“And she definitely got it. Nicole played amazing today.” 
 
 Kozlak’s performance extends Blake’s state championship streak to three – the Bears have four titles in all. 
 
“I have to say, in each one of our victories there has been somebody who has really stepped up,” Mark said. “Last year it was Abbie Lund, this year it was Nicole Kozlak. In 2008 it was a girl by the name of Julia Hawkins.”
 
None of those Bears were household names on the state lacrosse scene. At least not before the title game.
 
“I’m blown away, but mostly because I have never had more fun in a lacrosse game,” Kozlak said. “Just because we were all playing for each other, it was like we were a big family. 
 
“It feels great to score four goals, but I know that it means the most for the team to do it together. That’s the best part.”
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Lax Hub editor

Eden Prairie's Jessica Lagerquist runs past Blake's Brynne Swearingen during the Bears' 11-10 state championship victory. Photo by Helen Nelson

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Nicole Kozlak scored four goals and Meghan Bauer added four points to lead second-seeded Blake to its third straight championship, and fourth title in school history. 

Bauer scored twice and had two assists for the No. 2-ranked Bears (16-2) who defeated No. 1-seed and No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie 11-10 on Thursday, June 7, at Chanhassen High School in Chanhassen.

Things started out dicey for Blake when the Bears quickly dropped behind the Eagles 5-1 in the first half. From there, the they charged back to tie the game at five and fight Eden Prairie (17-1) evenly for the rest of the game. 

In the second half the teams traded leads until Jordan Chancellor scored a fast-break goal with 3:37 remaining to give the Bears the lead for good. 

Up by just one goal, Blake tossed the ball in circles for a few minutes before Eden Prairie scored a turnover to get the ball with around a minute left and a chance to tie the game. 

Bears goaltender Bailey Dunning came up with a huge save on a bullet of a shot from Eagles midfielder Jessica Lagerquist to keep the slim lead for Blake as time expired.

Junior midfielder Emma Claire Fontenot led Eden Prairie with three points (one goal, two assists) and Heidi Colford, Annie Thul, and Jessica Lagerquist each scored twice. 

Sophomore midfielder/defender Lydia Sutton led the game in points with two goals and three assists for Blake.

The loss was Eden Prairie’s first of the season.

-- Wallker Orenstein, MN Lax Hub staff

1. Nicole Kozlak, Blake 
Kozlak scored three of her four goals during Blake’s wild comeback in the first half. Down by four goals, she scored twice to bring the Bears within striking distance and then scored with less than a minute left in the half to bring Blake within one. All around, a great game from the junior midfielder.

2. Lydia Sutton, Blake
The sophomore played both midfielder and defender and tallied a game-high five points. Her fantastic passing energized the team, and her assists came at key moments, including Jordan Chancellor’s game winning goal.

3. Heidi Colford, Eden Prairie
Colford did most of her damage in the first half, scoring twice as Eden Prairie built its early lead. She was too much to handle down low and powered her way to goals right on top of the crease. Although she didn’t score in the second half, she still provided some punch and offensive opportunities for the Eagles.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Lax Hub staff

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