Practice for the Prior Lake girls’ lacrosse team used to be much harder — not in terms of physical exertion, though.
“We just knew a loss was coming,” Ashley Norberg explained, “and it made it so hard to get through [practice] each day. By the end of the season, we were ready to be done.”
That was in 2012, when Norberg was one of a handful of eighth-graders on the team, a group that won only once in 13 regular-season games. Throw in a 12-loss run in 2011, and the Lakers won only four games in two seasons.
Fast forward to Tuesday, as Norberg stood on the turf at Prior Lake High School after the Lakers’ 18-3 dismantling of Rosemount.
How have things changed for the program since 2012?
“Oh, in pretty much every way,” said Norberg, now a senior captain.
Prior Lake, 11-1 this spring, headed into its regular-season finale against Chanhassen on Thursday as the third-ranked team in the state. Its only loss came to No. 1 Eden Prairie, and that was after the Lakers won their first 10 games of the season. Nine of their 11 victories have come by at least eight goals. Five players have already racked up more than 20 goals on the season, and goaltender Claire Hagen has a 6.6 goals-against average with a .467 save percentage.
But those are just the results, coach Ali Minelli-Fenster- macher said.
“This is something that we’ve really built up to over the past several years,” said Minelli-Fenstermacher, who has spent nine years with the program, the past five as head coach. “Our captains and these older kids are proof of that, the way we’ve built it through our youth program and really built up a program here.”
The victories, Minelli-Fenstermacher said, didn’t start with having a talented, experienced squad this year. They didn’t start with the program’s first state tournament appearance in 2015, either.
The coach said she saw a shift coming between 2012 and 2013, as more players elected to spend their summers playing lacrosse, training and focusing on improvement — not just of themselves but the program in general.
“You could really see people start to take it more seriously,” senior captain Alexa Bloedow said. “There was just a new dedication there.”
It extended past each player’s own self-improvement. Each of the team’s four captains volunteers to coach or referee in the youth program. Norberg officiates games. Bloedow works with her younger sister’s fifth- and sixth-grade team. Aleah Fjelstad coaches middle schoolers. Sarah Pierson a junior, is an assistant with a team made up of kindergartners and first- and second-graders.
“It’s crazy that these kids are out there playing at such a young age now,” Pierson said, noting that she didn’t pick up a stick until fourth grade. “It’s so much fun to coach them and just see how much fun they all have. It’s great for the sport to get kids in so young.”
The 2016 Lakers, who start section play this week, hope to set a championship standard for the generations of players to follow.
Norberg said nothing has come easy in the team’s transition to the upper echelon, but it’s become far more enjoyable.
“Now, it’s so much fun,” she said. “We don’t want it to end.”