The Osseo/Park Center boys' lacrosse team prepares for the starte of the 2013 seasons. Photo by Marlin Levison/Star Tribune (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Since the inception of the boys’ lacrosse state tournament in 2007, the state title has been won by just four schools. For the girls, it’s only two.
But doubling the number of tournament entries to eight this spring has opened up the road to state a bit for the 67 girls’ teams and 63 boys’ teams registered for the 2013 season.
Instead of having all of those teams squeezing through playoffs in four sections, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHL) added four more sections in recognition of the sport’s growth across the state.
Beneficiaries include teams that are no longer in loaded sections, although those powerhouse teams still will have to be reckoned with at some point.
Eastview is the reigning state champions in boys’ lacrosse and head coach Tim Roche said the section reassignments won’t affect his team too much.
“It’s one of the toughest sections around because we have Eagan, Apple Valley all around us,” Roche said. “No matter how our sections change, we’re never going to get away from each other just because we’re so close to each other.”
For other teams, their paths to state have become a lot clearer. Lakeville North shared a section with Eastview last year and handed the Lightning its only loss. Now, the Panthers have moved to a southern section with less-experienced teams from outside the metro area.
“Some lacrosse coaches are going to complain that there’s some sections weaker than others,” Roche said. “But I think it’s great because it pushes teams to have a shot at going to state. It will push teams and coaches further to go even harder. So I think it’s great for the sport.”
Darren Nelson, head coach of the Osseo/Park Center boys’ lacrosse team said even though some sections might be deemed easier, it is important to give rural schools a chance.
“I hope it brings more attention to the out of metro schools because that’s where we need to grow now,” Nelson said. “We don’t have many schools outside the greater Twin Cities.”
Nelson’s team was section mates with Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, teams that had competed in the state championship five times between them. The new section alignment freed his team from those programs. But now it’s in a section with Totino-Grace, which has gone to the state tournament twice and played in the championship once.
Nelson said while the new sections will give more teams a chance to reach state, he doesn’t see the powerhouse teams losing their hold immediately.
“My biggest concern is maybe a couple teams get there and get blown out and maybe that’s not as great of an experience,” he said. “But at the same time, you still made it to the tournament.”
Eastview captain Ryan McNamara, an All-America and all-state player, said the section assignments are lopsided and ultimately the same four teams that would have made it in the old setup will emerge.
“It’s going to make you have to play an easier game at state,” McNamara said. “You’ll have a hard game to win sections, and then maybe one easy game at state, and then have it hard again.”
At Bloomington Jefferson, new girls’ lacrosse coach Anna Gunderson said the expansion provides many positives.
“It gives more girls the opportunity to experience success in going to state. I think that’s a wonderful experience to have,” Gunderson said. “I think in all tournament play there is a remarkable opportunity for upset and underdogs. ... No giant can kind of hold the top forever.”
Roche said the expansion signals how the sport is growing in Minnesota — and with the growth comes growing pains.
“I’m still a fan of the eight sections,” Roche said. “There’s no way for the MSHSL to ... make sections fair every year. It would be impossible.”
Nelson said that ultimately for the players, the more teams that can make it to state, the better.
“Kids enjoy saying, ‘We made it to the state tournament’ in years down the road,” Nelson said. “They like to brag about it.”
Megan Ryan is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.