Since a season-ending 9-8 section final loss last year to Mahtomedi, the East Ridge boys’ lacrosse team has #unfinishedbusiness. It’s a team slogan splashed across their jerseys.
The Raptors were close last year, going 11-2 in the regular season. This year, with a 10-1 record as of May 18, they hope to finish their business and make it to their first state tournament. The 2014 section final loss fueled their fire coming into this season, according to coach Aime Caines.
“It’s definitely something that still stings,” senior captain John Loyd said.
Added junior midfielder Evan Woodward, “Nearly every practice we think about it.”
They also started focusing on the 2015 state tournament right after the loss, senior captain Drew Nicholson said. Last year made him and his now-senior teammates realize they didn’t want to go out like that, he said.
Caines was fortunate to have many returning players this season. He coached many of them for five years or so. They pride themselves on shutouts, which are rare in lacrosse. This year they have two — a 2-0 victory over Stillwater and an 11-0 victory against Mounds View.
For all their experienced leaders, the Raptors have freshman Peyton Bixby in goal, and their backup goalie is an eighth-grader. They’re a huge part of the defense and shutouts, Caines said. East Ridge is tough to compete against when it plays its defensive systems and wins the loose ball battles, according to Caines.
“We really hang our hats on our defense,” he said.
Caines possesses the résumé to help make sure his team is doing “those little things.” He has played lacrosse professionally and just finished up a six-year stint as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Swarm.
“He really puts his heart and soul into the team,” said Nicholson, who was described by his coach as the team’s “heart and soul.”
Injuries have played a part in the season, too, but East Ridge battled through with a deep lineup. One starter, Bodie Sheehan, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game. The team honored him at a recent game with a signed jersey and dedicated the season to him.
In his absence, other players stepped up to fill the void. “We’re deeper than we’ve ever been,” Caines said.
A turning point for the team’s offense came in a 6-3 win against town-rival Woodbury, according to Caines. The Raptors generated a lot of offense and shots on goal during the game, and learned the importance of capitalizing on opportunities, he said.
The one blemish on the Raptors’ season was an 8-3 loss at White Bear Lake, one of the state’s dominant lacrosse programs. Little things made the difference in that game, Loyd said, “so they beat us on the scoreboard.”
“We came out a little flat … it kind of fell apart in the second half,” said Caines, adding he’d love another crack at White Bear Lake, a potential state tournament matchup.
Nicholson believes they have the talent and desire to outwork opponents.
“If everyone plays at the potential that they can, I really think we can take it all the way,” Nicholson said.
Woodward said “going 100 percent in practice” is key. Loyd said they need to play their game, possess the ball, shoot low and take charge.
“The motivation’s there,” Caines said. “I don’t think we’re going to be satisfied until we get there.”
To take care of the #unfinishedbusiness.