Historic firsts keep coming for the Blaine girls' lacrosse team, from a trip to the state tournament last year to a Northwest Suburban Conference title this spring.

Another new role awaits as section playoffs begin this week. Success means the Bengals are the hunted in Section 7, home to many conference foes Blaine (12-1) defeated earlier this season.

A year ago, the Bengals' march to state featured a section tournament semifinal upset of previously unbeaten Champlin Park. They want to avoid a similar fate.

"I think Champlin Park took us lightly, and I've been reminding our team to not do the same," coach Dennis Osbeck said.

Sustaining success taught important lessons. Blaine edged Champlin Park 11-10 in overtime, crushed Centennial 21-7 and recovered from complacency just in time to defeat Andover and Irondale. Players look forward to making a deep playoff run to prove they've learned well.

"Our intensity is higher and so is the confidence that we have in ourselves," said junior midfielder Abby Jones, who leads the Bengals with 56 goals.

Fast and fluid, Blaine's up-tempo attack can overwhelm opponents. Jones, junior forward Ava Engler (24 goals) and hockey standouts Gabby Rosenthal (21) and Paige Beebe (22) help Blaine excel in transition. Against Elk River, the Bengals pressed for a pair of goals only seven seconds apart. Both times, only two passes were needed to move the team down the field for scores.

"Déjà vu is what the announcer said after the second goal," Jones said with a laugh.

The payoff on the scoreboard starts with doing the little things well.

"We've kept our heads up more, found open players and our passes have been on point," Engler said.

When the Bengals set up in the opposition's defensive zone, Engler controls play from her spot behind the goal. By necessity, Engler played the past two seasons on defense before switching to her more natural role at forward.

Nervousness about the transition vanished after she tallied three goals and two assists in the season-opening victory against Anoka. She later assisted on the overtime winner against Champlin Park.

Rosenthal and Beebe, stars of the Bengals hockey team that took second in the Class 2A tournament, brought their scoring touch to the lacrosse field. Beebe's mastery on the draw often gets the offense off to a flying start.

But Jones is the catalyst. She struck for five or more goals in seven games.

"We rely on her a lot, and she's always been able to score," Engler said. "She gives 110 percent all game whether she's getting the ball, passing or shooting. She's the star of the team."

Defensively, senior Kirstie Ziegler handles the challenge to face-guard the opposition's top player and take them out of plays as often as possible. When an injury sidelined Ziegler for a few games, junior Isabella Erne provided a solid replacement.

"There wasn't really any drop-off," Osbeck said.

In goal, four-year starter Sarah Ganley brings poise and experience.

"You can't win those one- or two-goal games without her keeping it close," Osbeck said.

Ganley said success all season helped prepare Blaine — only 7-6 in the regular season last year — for the role of postseason favorite.

"Last year we didn't win as many games so this year we knew had to beat the better teams in our conference," Ganley said.