Eastview's Ryan McNamara, right, takes a spill in front of Orono defender Ryan Breon. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Jeremy LeClaire was a freshman playing on Eastview’s ninth- and 10th-gade club team last season as the Lightning varsity was on its way to the program’s first state title.
Standing in front of wildly inaccurate shots or weak dribblers steered at the net by fuzzy faced fellow freshmen is a world away from LeClaire’s current role as cornerstone of the Eastview defense.
Now its LeClaire standing on the state's biggest stage, facing the state's best shooters.
“Yeah, much different shots,” Eastview coach Tim Roche said. “The two Gross boys, Sampson … those are just big-boy shots and that is a big step for him.”
Roche was referring to Orono standouts Alex and Parker Gross and Chandler Sampson, each of whom are veteran snipers who took aim and unleashed their best shots at LeClaire – over and over again – on Tuesday, June 11, during the No. 2-seeded Lightning’s 10-5 victory over the unseeded Spartans in the state quarterfinals at Chaska High School.
Coming off what could have been a confidence-sapping 19-18 victory over Eagan in the Section 3 championship game, LeClaire was his usual unflappable self in making 11 saves and helping Eastview keep its hopes for a repeat championship alive.
“Their goalie played fantastic today,” Orono coach Josh Scott said. “He played unbelievable. It was just one of those things where we ran into a hot goalie and that happens a lot, especially in the state tournament.
“And that’s a killer.”
Eastview returns much of its offensive firepower from last season, most notably Mr. Lacrosse finalist Ryan McNamara, but the defense was gutted by graduation. Connor Mills is the lone defenseman back from last season, and Jake McGlocklin is the lone long-stick midfielder.
As for LeClaire, well, there was no telling how he would handle the steep upgrade in competition this season. The answer? Not bad, not bad at all. Eastview won went 10-3 during a regular season that included a South Suburban Conference championship.
Now the intensity has been cranked to blast-furnace levels as the Lightning try to repeat as champs. LeClaire shrugs off the pressure as it were a shot to the shoulder.
“You just make saves, try to trust your defense,” LeClaire said.
As for Tuesday’s performance, LeClaire matter-of-factly allowed that, “I made quite a few saves.
“They were shooting more so you have to save more.”
Eastview doesn’t expect a lot of sprawling saves or highlight-reel performances from its goaltenders. Just stay in position. Don’t get upset if you allow a goal. Don’t go bonkers if you make a big save.
“We try to leave our goalies alone,” said Roche, who played goal for Minnesota State. “We say just ride the waves. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. We’ve been fortunate to have a string of goalies that just stay even-keeled.”
-- Loren Nelson
State tournament newcomer and unseeded Orono made it interesting, holding a one-goal lead against defending champion and No. 2 seed Eastview into the second quarter.
But the heavily favored Lightning struck for the next seven goals, a game-clinching run spanning part of the second quarter and all of the third, in a 10-5 quarterfinal victory on Tuesday, June 11, at Chaska High School.
Eastview’s Ryan McNamara, a Mr. Lacrosse finalist coming off a stunning 12-goal performance against Eagan in the Section 3 championship game, scored three goals as did teammate Tanner Hamill, and Lightning sophomore goaltender Jeremy LeClaire was brilliant while making 11 saves.
Orono’s Blake Leischow scored the lone goal in the first quarter. McNamara tied the game at 1-1 and knotted the score again at 2-2 following Chandler Sampson’s goal.
From there, No. 2 seed Eastview (13-3) went on a run Orono (12-4) could not match.
Brett Schweiger, Nick Abbott, McNamara and Hamill scored to give the Lightning a 4-0 edge in the third quarter.
Sampson and Alex Gross each finished with two goals for Orono, a former club state champion in its second season playing in the Minnesota State High School League.
1. Jeremy LeClaire, Eastview
It's difficult for a goalie to take over a lacrosse game, but the sophomore was able to do it in this state quarterfinal. LeClaire was a rock for the Lightning, allowing only five goals while making 11 saves for a .688 save percentage. He also held the Spartans off the scoreboard for a whopping 25-minute stretch that spanned from the second quarter to the fourth quarter.
2. Ryan McNamara, Eastview
He might not have matched his 12-goal performance from Eastview’s wil section final win over Eagan, but McNamara was still as impactful as ever. It was clear the Spartans made it their number one priority to shut down McNamara, but he still finished with a hat trick. The Spartan defenders were very physical with him and were determined to not let him get to the net, so he showed his versatility by scoring on long shots from the perimeter.
3. Brett Schweiger, Eastview
Schweiger scored arguably the two prettiest goals of the game and tacked on an assist for good measure. His first goal came on a great individual effort in which he ran over a defender then ripped a long low shot past Orono goalie Jake Anderson. His second goal was just as impressive as he showed off his speed and burned past a few defenders before burying the shot. He also might have had the best hair on the field, which has to count for something.
-- John Kelsey