Captain’s practices were over. Tryouts were done. The Rosemount boys’ lacrosse team had assembled for its first morning practice of the season.
Conner Yepsen had something to say to the group. This was unusual, because Yepsen typically doesn’t do a lot of talking. Long speeches don’t fit Yepsen’s understated, task-oriented personality. He’s better suited to be a drill sergeant than a politician or professor.
“Trent [Woodcock] is the guy who has the big motivational speeches,” Irish coach Lance Kuehn said about the senior midfielder. “But when Conner says something, he means what he says.”
Even on this day, a cold and blustery April 2, Yepsen didn’t go overboard delivering his message.
“He told the guys, ‘This is our year,’ ” Kuehn said. “We had won the [South Suburban] conference, and we had made it deep in the playoffs, and he said, ‘This is a better team than last season, and this is our year.’ ”
Since that first practice, Yepsen has worked tirelessly to ensure the Irish’s singular focus has been on reaching the state tournament. Always a premier scorer who could make defenders look helpless with his eye-blurring quickness and ability to shoot while running at top speed, Yepsen rounded out his game by becoming a reliable faceoff man and hard-nosed defender. Throw in his burgeoning leadership skills, and that makes for a complete package and led to him being selected as the Star Tribune boys’ lacrosse Metro Player of the Year.
Yepsen and his twin brother, Carter, lead a top-ranked Irish (14-1) team that avenged its lone regular season loss by defeating Prior Lake 11-10 in the Section 3 championship game on Thursday. That victory ended years of playoff frustrations for the Irish and secured their first state tournament appearance in program history.
“Through the five years I’ve been playing on the team, I think this is the best, most well-rounded team we’ve had,” said Conner, who has scored a team-high 47 goals to go with 22 assists and will play at Division I Robert Morris University next year with his brother. “Everyone has got a target on us since we’re No. 1. They’re all coming to get us.”
That bull’s-eye has been especially big on Conner, who routinely attracts double and triple teams and, in some cases, having a defender shadow his every move. He welcomes that sort of attention.
“Like tonight, when they are looking to lock me out [Carter] gets opened up,” Conner said after the Irish beat Prior Lake on a goal with 13 seconds left by Carter. “It’s nice to rely on someone and not always have the target mainly on you.”