Benilde-St. Margaret's senior Robbie Lance scoops the ball ahead of Mahtomedi's Mac Rathmanner. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Two games, two losses.
That’s a season’s worth of setbacks – sometimes multiple seasons – for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, the state’s marquee boys’ lacrosse program.
After opening the season with losses to No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie and No. 3 Eagan, the Red Knights, state champions in 2007, 2010 and 2011, were in desperate need of some positive reinforcement.
Play well. Win. Usually the formula is that simple for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, which typically replaces one large and talented senior crop with another with no noticeable dip in its level of play.
“It’s always tough at Benilde-St. Margaret’s,” Red Knights senior midfielder Robbie Lance said. “We’ve had so much success in the past. So, yeah, absolutely there is a burden of high expectations. But I think people look forward to that and it is something people take pride in.”
Benilde-St. Margaret's senior Robbie Lance scored five goals in the Red Knights' 10-7 victory over Mahtomedi. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Facing another highly regarded team in Mahtomedi on Thursday, April 25, at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, the Red Knights were staring at the very real possibility of a third consecutive loss.
Someone needed to take charge. Maybe several someones. Where else to look but the seniors? Who else to start with but with Lance?
“That’s senior captain leadership right there,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Colin Mulcahy said about Lance’s five-goal performance in the Red Knights’ 10-7 triumph over the Zephyrs. “That’s what we needed out of him.”
Lance used a nifty array of spins, stops and starts to create scoring chance after scoring chance, and when all else failed he simply bull-rushed the goal before unloading a shot. Sometimes he paid a price for his bulldozer approach, and more than once he found himself stretched out on the turf.
“You just kind of put your head down and grind to the net and whatever happens, happens,” said Lance, who scored 10 goals in 14 games last season.
Before Thursday’s game, the Red Knights coaching staff had challenged their seniors, and Lance in particular, to take ownership of the team’s fortunes.
“We had a chat with him earlier this week, and he wanted the ball on his stick,” Mulcahy said. “So we gave it to him.
“We just told him that he needs to be that player that can take over games. He has the ability to do it, now it’s just the mental game. Go out there and actually be a lacrosse player, play lacrosse, you know how to do it, so go do it.”
Respect for Benilde-St. Margaret’s around the state is such that the Red Knights were No. 9 in the latest coaches’ poll despite their 0-2 start. The victory over Mahtomedi, which came into its season opener at No. 12, will no doubt keep the Red Knights in the top 10.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s schedule doesn’t include another matchup against a top-ranked team until May 18, when the Red Knights play at Minnetonka.
“It’s relieving to know that we are finally on the upswing,” Lance said. “It’s hard to start off the season with two losses like that but it’s nice to get back on track and kind of maximize our potential tonight."
Mahtomedi coach Brian Strauss is a former Zephyrs player, and he remembers some great matchups against Benilde-St. Margaret’s back in the days when he was strapping on a helmet and wielding a stick.
“I think Benilde and Mahtomedi were among the first couple of teams in the state for lacrosse,” Strauss said. “I played them back in 2002 to 2005, I think. We played Benilde every year and it was always a one-goal game back and forth. For some reason, I don’t know, we just lost them on the schedule.”
Strauss emailed Red Knights coach Colin Mulcahy called over the summer and inquired about getting the old rivalry renewed. Mulcahy was quick to accept.
Based on the five-star level of entertainment provided in Thursday’s matchup, an eventual 10-7 Benilde-St. Margaret’s victory, the teams are likely to meet again, and again and again in coming years.
“That was a fun game,” Mulcahy said. “Benilde and Mahtomedi used to have a pretty strong rivalry, but then we took a couple of years off for some reason. We got it on the schedule, and we didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely back and forth.”
The teams traded the first nine goals until the Red Knights, winners of three state championships, slowly managed to pull away in the second half.
“It was a great experience,” said Mahtomedi senior goaltender Joe Rutkiewicz, who made several spectacular stops. “I’ve always wanted to play Benilde. Coming up in lacrosse, they’ve always been the pinnacle, like that is who you look forward to play.”
Mahtomedi senior goaltender Joe Rutkiewicz stretches to catch the ball as teammate Mac Rathmanner (24) and Gibson Reine of Benilde-St. Margaret's (21) watch. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Senior midfielder Robbie Lance scored five goals to power No. 9-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s past Mahtomedi 10-7 on Thursday, April 25, at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School.
Lance scored three of his goals in a wild third quarter that saw the teams erupt for a combined seven goals. Two of Lance’s goals game 22 seconds apart early in the third quarter as the Red Knights built a 6-4 lead – the first time either team led by more than one goal.
Lance also scored to put the Red Knights ahead 9-7 early in the third quarter. He was falling backwards to the turf after taking a hit just after he uncorked the hard shot that beat Mahtomedi goaltender Joe Rutkiewicz.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak to start the season for the Red Knights, state champions in 2007, 2010 and 2011. Benilde-St. Maragaret’s had lost to No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie and No. 3 Eagan to open its schedule.
Josh Kerner and Sam Koenig each scored twice for Mahtomedi in its season opener. The Zephyrs' first six games on their schedule were postponed because of this spring’s wet, wintry weather conditions.
Rutkiewicz, a senior, was a standout in goal, making several spectacular stops to keep Mahtomedi close right up to the final minutes.
The teams traded the first eight goals before Lance’s back-to-back scores in the third quarter.
1. Robbie Lance, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
A senior midfielder with a tap dancer’s feet, Lance dodged and darted through the Mahtomedi defense all game. His five goals came on long shots, short-range shots, bouncing shots an shots taken while he was flying backwards to the turf.