Prior Lake's Alex Leaf (28) and Jeremy Goltz (29) each scored twice in the Lakers' 11-3 triumph over Blake. Photo by Jon Laqua
Lacrosse remains a boom sport in Minnesota, and the epicenter of the massive growth might very well be Prior Lake, where hundreds of kids no taller than their sticks are running full speed wearing helmets that look entirely too big for their miniature bodies.
At the high school level, Lakers coach Chris Fleck is reaping the benefits of a feeder program that ranks among the largest in the state.
“We’ve worked really, really hard at the youth program,” Fleck said. “Some of those guys, the guys that I coached down at the youth program, are now playing varsity. It is definitely paying dividends.”
Prior Lake figures to be a powerhouse program sooner rather than later, and the Lakers’ time might very well be now based on their 11-3 dismantling of traditional juggernaut Blake on Saturday, April 20, under the domed Savage Sports Center.
Prior Lake coach Chris Fleck. Photo by Jon Laqua
Blake entered the season ranked No. 6 in the state coaches’ poll, and the Bears have traditionally been among the handful of programs strong enough to contend for a championship year after year.
Prior Lake, meanwhile, entered the spring unranked after struggling through a 5-10 2012 season that included four one-goal losses.
A cautiously optimistic Fleck wasn’t ready to anoint the Lakers as state championship frontrunners after Saturday’s dismantling of the Bears.
“It’s too early in the season to really tell where we are going to be,” he said. “I think we are ready to play on the big stage.”
While the Lakers have an influx of young talent streaming on the varsity (six freshmen are listed on the roster) it was the seniors who took charge against Blake, with Joey Kleven, Jeremy Goltz, Alec Leaf and Henry Prettyman each scoring two goals.
Leaf’s performance was especially surprising give that he spent all of last season the Lakers’ junior varsity.
“It was a great, a great win,” said Leaf, who scored both of his goals in the first quarter as the Lakers raced to a 4-1 lead. “It definitely was a lot of fun scoring, getting my first goal.”
Fully motivated to crack the varsity lineup, Leaf spent the offseason honing his game through indoor workouts, outdoor practice sessions and by playing in a couple of leagues.
“I have been waiting a long time to play,” he said. “I really wanted to make it. I worked a lot on my stickhandling. I did a lot of wall ball in the offseason. I played in winter leagues.”
Leaf’s emergence, along with the steady play of Prettyman, who didn’t start playing lacrosse until he was a freshman, bolsters a lineup that returns almost all of its starters from last season.
“Anybody has got a chance,” Fleck said. “If kids work hard and put in the time, they will succeed.”
-- Loren Nelson
Prior Lake midfielder Cullen Sowder, right, works past Blake's Christopher Chute. Photo by John Laqua
Blake won back-to-back Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association State championships in 2005 and 2006, then added a Minnesota State High School League title in 2008.
As one of the state’s marquee programs, Blake always seems to be in the championship mix. Last year, after struggling through a 5-7 regular season, the Bears reeled off three straight playoff victories to reach the Section 5 championship game.
Although the Bears lost 5-4 to Edina, they proved it is a fool’s bet to count the Bears as down and out.
This season begins with Frank Clark as Blake’s third head coach in as many years, and the Bears are off to 0-2 start after losses to St. Thomas Academy and Prior Lake.
Winter’s unrelenting grip has made outdoor practices all but impossible this spring, so the Bears have only taken a few steps up what figures to be a steep learning curve.
“Everybody is dealing with this unique situation, so we are just trying to make the best of it right now,” Clark said. “We have to grind it out. I think our growth projection is a little different that what we had scheduled.”
Patience will be the operative word for the Bears, who played much better in the second half against Prior Lake after falling behind 7-1 at halftime.
“We made some mental mistakes, some full field mistakes that need to be addressed and cleaned up,” Clark said. “We can do some of that in the gym. Our goal is to get better week by week.”
-- Loren Nelson
First-year Blake coach Frank Clark. Photo by Jon Laqua
Joey Kleven scored three goals and added two assists for Prior Lake as the Lakers opened their season with an 11-3 victory over No-6-ranked Blake on Saturday, April 20, at the Savage Sports Center.
The unranked Lakers moved the ball well all game, tallying seven assists. Kleven's linemates, Alec Leaf and Sean Carlson, each had one assist.
Leaf, who played junior varsity all last season, made his first varsity start and scored two goals. Leaf's assist came on one of Kleven's goals.
Prior Lake goaltender Aaron Weiderhoeft made several great saves while the Lakers were a man down and finished with 11 stops on 14 shots.
Blake's Quin Ellis scored two of the Bears' three goals, while Ned Hartfiel supplied the third.
The loss drops Blake to 0-2.
-- Trevor Squire
Prior Lake senior Joey Kleven. Photo by Jon Laqua
1. Joey Kleven, Prior Lake
A senior attackman who was second on the Lakers’ in scoring last season with 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists), Kleven racked up five points on two goals and three assists. His playmaking was the catalyst of several picturesque goals that Blake goaltender Nick Washuta had little chance of stopping.
2. Alec Leaf, Prior Lake
A senior attackman playing his first varsity game, Leaf looked like a seasoned veteran with his passing, playmaking and ball control skills. All his offseason training paid dividends in the form of a two-goal, one-assist varsity debut.
3. Jeremy Goltz, Prior Lake
A senior midfielder with size, speed and an abundance of flowing hair, Goltz was a beast scooping ground balls and keeping the Lakers’ offense humming at a high rate of efficiency. He scored twice, with both goals coming in the crucial first half as Prior Lake surged to a 7-1 lead.
-- Loren Nelson