The Prior Lake girls’ lacrosse team is coming off its best finish in program history, third place in the state tournament.

It has eight starters returning from that group, and another eight who made significant contributions. Yet, it wasn’t listed in the top five teams to watch in the Star Tribune’s preseason preview.

The Lakers felt slighted and have come out playing with vengeance. They opened the season with five consecutive victories, including wins over Blake 12-9 and Apple Valley 11-10 in overtime, teams No. 2 and 3, respectively, in those preseason rankings.

Blake edged Prior Lake 10-9 in the state semifinals last year.

“Our games against Edina, Blake and Minnetonka we limited them to only one score in the second half,” Lakers coach Heather Pierson said. “Against Burnsville, we completely shut them down in the second half.”

The Lakers’ defense was hit hardest by graduation, losing two starting defenders and its No. 1 goalkeeper. Junior Grace Mattox has played the first five games in net and has allowed 30 goals.

“We’ve been feeling teams out in the first half,” Lakers senior defender and co-captain Erin Megarry said. “We refocus at halftime. We really trust each other all the time.”

What sets the Lakers apart from most teams is their ability to get offensive production from a number of players.

“We’re a well-rounded team,” Lakers senior midfielder and co-captain Kelly Gleason said. “Nobody is afraid to pass the ball and get an assist.”

The Lakers, with 67 goals in their first five games, have six players already with five or more goals on the season. They are led by senior forward Lexi Peer and junior midfielder Jordan Anderson with 11 apiece. Sophomore midfielder Josie Kropp has a team-high eight assists.

“Our strength is the number of players who can score,” Pierson said. “We don’t just rely on one or two players.”

A year ago, they had 11 players net at least 10 goals. Peer led the team with 42 goals and freshman forward Payton Bloedow had 32. Peer scored the overtime goal against Apple Valley.

“Being able to take over a program that has such a strong foundation, starting with our youth program, and a recent history of success has been rewarding,” Pierson said. “The players we see grow up in the program bring so much individual talent, and still have a team first mentality.”

That kind of approach has led to a gradual improvement in Prior Lake’s program. It finished fifth in the state tournament in 2015, the school’s initial appearance in the field, and fourth in 2016.

“Every year we are underrated, maybe because they look at the strong seniors we graduate,” Pierson said. “Every year our younger players step up and fill into the roles that were once filled by seniors. New leaders develop every year, and they have a high expectations of themselves and their teammates. They see challenges as an opportunity to become stronger.”

One that hopefully leads to the next step.

“We were so close last year,” Megarry said. They lost to Blake on a goal with one second left. “Obviously, our main goal is to get to the championship game.”