Sophie Skallerud, left, and Payton Crosby battled during a drill. [LEILA NAVIDI - email@example.com]
Bloomington Jefferson players enjoyed an extra special start to the boys’ lacrosse season last week.
The Jaguars learned last Monday they are among eight teams taking part in the inaugural Lacrosse Day Minnesota, a four-game showcase featuring top boys’ and girls’ teams that’s two parts celebration and one part introduction.
The event takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Blake School’s Gordy Aamoth Memorial Stadium in Hopkins.
Adult admission is $5 for the entire day. Students 18 and under are free. Prepspotlight.tv will carry a free livestream of all four high school games: Rosemount vs. Chanhassen (boys), Jefferson vs. Edina (boys), Prior Lake vs. Blake (boys) and Holy Family vs. Blake (girls). A game featuring college men’s club teams from Minnesota and North Dakota State kicks off the festivities at 10:30 a.m.
“The guys were thrilled to have a day dedicated to lacrosse in Minnesota,” Jefferson senior midfielder Princeton Oppong said. “For lacrosse in Minnesota, it’s a pretty special thing. It’s that next step.”
Though the Minnesota State High School League began sponsoring boys’ and girls’ lacrosse state tournaments in 2007, the sport continues to fight for wider appeal and attention.
Oppong considers the state’s current crop of varsity lacrosse players as ambassadors, old enough to see growth yet needed to bring forth greater awareness. He earned a scholarship to play at Mercer and also coaches in the expanding Bloomington Youth Lacrosse Association. But he still has conversations in which people reply, “Oh, lacrosse — what’s that?”
Organizers hope Lacrosse Day Minnesota answers the question. Inspired by Hockey Day Minnesota and basketball’s Breakdown Tip Off Classic, Nick Rathmann, Blake activities director, created the event format with boys’ team coaches Scott Cater (Jefferson), Jon Junker (Chanhassen) and Lance Kuehn (Rosemount) and Blake girls’ coach Sarah Fellows.
“This is an exciting way to give the season a launch,” Cater said. “Lacrosse is a sprint so you do try to put what you have on the table right away. You begin with the end in mind and these games have ramifications for section seeding.”
A stacked field features former state tournament participants, past state champions (Blake and Prior Lake boys, Blake girls) and several college-bound players.
The boys’ side offers Chanhassen seniors Cole Grindberg (Air Force Academy) and Jadon Kerry (Duke), Blake senior Bjorn Holm (Air Force Academy) and Prior Lake senior Preston Jelen, who committed to Minnesota’s football program. Edina senior Quinn Marple will play at Division III Ohio Wesleyan.
On the girls’ side, Holy Family juniors Bella Dervin and Leigh Steiner have both given a verbal commitment to Marquette. Blake senior Sophie Skallerud committed to Dartmouth.
Players such as Skallerud understand the potential for the event’s long-term gain. She attended Blake since kindergarten and admired 2014 graduate Lydia Sutton, a dominant player and current co-captain at the University of Southern California.
“Watching her, I thought it would be the greatest thing ever to start playing varsity lacrosse,” Skallerud said. “I think Lacrosse Day Minnesota will be a great way for more kids to see what lacrosse is all about.”
Fellows, who brings a more national perspective, agrees. She grew up with the sport in North Carolina and played at Ohio State. She has coached in her home state and Minnesota.
“Any time we can get lacrosse in front of the public and get younger kids excited to learn the sport, the better it’s going to be for all the programs in the state,” Fellows said.