A palpable excitement passed between Coon Rapids girls' lacrosse teammates during school last Friday, a shared anticipation for the evening's game against rival Champlin Park.

The Cardinals' past two seasons ended with section final losses to the Rebels, each one creating more desire for redemption. A chance to clinch a share of the Northwest Suburban Conference title only intensified the showdown.

"At school that morning you could see everyone was more awake, more ready to go," senior forward Bailey Ryan said. "Everybody was live."

Ryan scored four first-half goals in a 11-9 victory and the Cardinals improved to 10-1 with one week left before the playoffs. Celebration gave way to caution after the game, however. Two years ago, when current seniors were sophomores, Coon Rapids defeated Champlin Park in the regular season but fell in the section final rematch. And another big game with the Rebels seems likely this spring.

"We talked about know Champlin Park will be tougher if we see them again and we have to refocus," senior forward Heidi Hannula said. "We want a good ending."

Going back to the beginning of this season is necessary for charting the team's success. Players and coach Jeff DeJoy agreed depth and distribution had to be the difference. No longer would the Cardinals feed the ball to one or two players and get out of their way. This year wider ownership of the offense would be critical.

"In years past, two or three girls would score six or seven goals a game," Hannula said. "This year we passed the ball more because we have eight or nine forwards who could score one or two goals per game. That's great because you can't double-team all of us."

Hannula leads the team with 28 assists and ranks third with 28 goals.

"I can hit any open girl on the team and I'm confident they will score," she said.

Ryan, the team's leading scorer with 33 goals, also has 17 assists. Senior midfielder Allie Erickson has 29 goals and 15 assists.

Additional scoring punch is supplied by sophomore midfielder Helen Nelson (22 goals) and junior forward Lily Hackett, who scored her team's final four goals against Champlin Park to clinch a share of its first conference title since 2012.

"The goal all year was to play as 12," DeJoy said. "From the get-go we've been a better passing team and we've let the ball do the work for us."

The goal, DeJoy said, is scoring 10 goals and then shutting down opponents. The Cardinals have allowed double-digits only twice this season, a pleasant surprise given big graduation losses at defense.

Enter senior Emily Boyum. DeJoy approached the part-time midfielder at the end of last season and suggested a position switch.

"I said yes even though I didn't know what I was getting myself into," Boyum said.

Quickness and aggressiveness negated Boyum's lack of experience. DeJoy called her the "rock" of the defense. Ryan called her "the glue that holds the defense together."

Junior midfielder Allie Miskowiec also has impressed with her defensive play and ability to dictate tempo.

With all its gears humming, Coon Rapids secured three important victories last week. First came a regroup against Totino-Grace. His team tied 6-6 midway through the first half, DeJoy called timeout and conveyed his frustration with few words.

"I said, 'Really? Is this the way it's going to go down?' " DeJoy said, before leaving players to find an answer.

The message stuck. Coon Rapids closed the game out with a 20-2 run.

"Coach was reminding us to be confident," Ryan said. "After that we were winning draws and playing more feisty."

Two days later, the Cardinals traveled to Robbinsdale Armstrong, where they had never won. Until that day. Coon Rapids earned a 10-9 victory, considered by Ryan to be "just as great as beating Champlin Park. We saw an article that said we had ever beaten them at home and that gave us more of a fight to our game."

Said Hannula: "It was a good week. Our mind-set was doing things for the benefit of the section playoffs."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574