Eden Prairie's Charlie Venable (4) whips a shot toward the Eagan net and goaltender Luke Westrum as Wildcats defenseman Grant Swanke tries to intercept the ball. Photo by Loren Nelson
Luke Westrum had the ball deep in a far corner of the field.
On one side of the Eagan goaltender was Eden Prairie’s Charlie Venable. On the other was Brooks Armitage.
Westrum was surrounded – by Hobbits.
The trap had been set. Westrum had no way out of it. Sure enough, a turnover was forced. Venable got the ball, then he dished it to Armitage just outside the crease.
“We usually will double the ball if a middie takes it, and then one of us will jump the goalie,” said Armitage, a senior who scored three goals and added three assists on Monday in No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie’s 13-10 victory over Eagan at Eagan High School. “Chuck caused the turnover, picked it up and found me.”
Eden Prairie's Charlie Venable, left, scored twice in the Eagles' 13-10 victory over Eagan. Photo by Loren Nelson
Venable, a running back during football season, was generously listed at 5-foot-7 on the Eagles’ roster last fall. Armitage stood about the same height last season, and along with Venable and the then-undersized Sam Gravelle formed an attack line affectionately labeled “The Hobbits” by Eagles coach Ryan Ward.
Armitage estimates he grew about two or three inches since last season, shedding his Hobbit-like stature much to the dismay of good buddy Venable.
“We used to be Hobbits, and then this kid gained six inches,” Venable said with a laugh. “Now I’m the only Hobbit left on the team.”
Venable scored twice and added that assist on the Armitage goal that put Eden Prairie ahead 10-8 just more than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter. Eagan had led by as much as three goals early in the second quarter of what was easily the state's biggest matchup of the season to date.
“Our first quarter we were probably a little nervous,” Armitage said. “We had some jitters and coughed up a few turnovers.”
Few teams can match Eden Prairie’s speed, as the Eagles can roll out Lamborghinis all over the field. Kyle Theilmann is a rocket-propelled defenseman, freshman J.D. Spielman is as much a blur and rumor than high-scoring midfielder and senior Jake Woodring doesn’t so much have a stride as he does a jet engine.
Then there are The Hobbits. The taller, more lanky Armitage doesn’t appear to have lost a step despite his summer growth spurt, and Armitage is blessed with ridiculously quick feet and the sort of top-end speed normally limited to dragstrips and airport runways.
Eden Prairie's Brooks Armitage, right, scored three goals against Eagan and Wildcats goaltender Luke Westrum. Photo by Loren Nelson
At one point in the first half Armitage simply ran around an Eagan defender and headed straight to the crease, arriving there long before another Wildcats defender could provide support. Armitage easily popped the ball into the net, but the goal was waived off because he was in the crease.
“I love it, I prefer it,” he said about The Hobbits as a nickname. “I don’t know if those tall guys do.
“I’m short and I’m proud.”
Armitage and Venable were key members of the Eagles team that reached last year’s state championship, where they lost to Eastview. This season the Eagles had a 12.8-goal margin of victory in their first six games before beating Wayzata 9-7 on Thursday, May 2. Eden Prairie had defeated Wayzata 16-4 earlier in the season.
“That kind of caused a hiccup,” Venable said about the narrow victory over the Trojans. “I don’t know if we lost a little bit of our confidence. We kind of lost our swagger, I felt.”
Now the Eagles have their swagger back. Or at least a road map on how to find it. Closing out tight games against tough teams certainly doesn’t hurt.
“We listened to our coaches,” Armitage said. “They wanted us to get through to the secondary offense and get the backside because they saw looks. So we quite freelancing and started listening to them.
“Some good things happened."
Eagan's Cullen Willox, right, fires a shot as Eden Prairie's George Kenedy (25) tries to get a piece of the ball. Photo by Loren Nelson
Senior attackman Brooks Armitage scored three goals and added three assists to power No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie past No. 3 Eagan 13-10 on Monday, May 6, at Eagan High School in a showdown of two of the state's remaining handful of unbeaten teams.
Armitage's speed and playmaking was kryptonite for Eagan defenders as he was able to come from behind the net for quick shots and passes all game. He scored twice in the early stages of the fourth quarter, crucial goals that allowed Eden Prairie (8-0) to gradually pull away from the Wildcats (5-1).
Senior midfielder Jake Woodring also scored three goals for the Eagles, who were playing their first road game and first game on natural grass.
The tightly contested game -- the score was tied at 5 at halftime and neither team led by more than a goal starting from the late stages of the second quarter and through all of the third -- was typical in what has been an entertaining series between the teams that, in the short lifespan of Minnesota lacrosse, have earned the prestige of annually being among the state's elite.
Eagan senior Michael Kukulski and Denver commit Woodring were both tied for third in the state in goals before the game. Woodring's hat trick pushed him ahead of Kukulski, who had two goals and uncharacteristically missed the net with several rocket shots.
Thomas Powers led Eagan with two goals and two assists, while fellow attackman Connor Simpson had three goals for the hat trick. Simpson scored his first goal just 46 seconds into the second half, and he scored again about 8 minutes later, each time giving the Wildcats the lead.
Both teams exchanged goals late in the third quarter. Eagles freshman J.D. Spielman scored both of his goals to help the Eagles outscore the Wildcats 3-1 in the last three minutes of the third, giving the Eagles the cushion they needed to hold on for the win.
-- Trevor Squire
Eden Prairie's Jake Woodring. Photo by Loren Nelson
1. Brooks Armitage, Eden Prairie
Armitage was a doubly painful thorn in Eagan’s defense, scoring three goals and setting up three others. The senior attackman did most of his damage curling out from behind the Eagan net and either shooting or dishing to open teammates.
2. Jake Woodring, Eden Prairie
The senior midfielder wasn’t afforded an abundance of time or space by Eagan’s defense. But Woodring, among the frontrunners for the Mr. Lacrosse award, doesn’t need much of either. He scored three goals to bump his season total to 23, among the state’s leaders.
3. Connor Simpson, Eagan
After a quiet first half, the senior dodged, darted and dove past Eden Prairie defenders on his way to three goals, all of them allowing the Wildcats to keep pace with the Eagles.