Walking up to the stage Tuesday night to accept her Courage in Competition Award, Cassidy Lehrke couldn't move without crutches for support, holding her upright after a recent knee injury.

Once the Rogers goalkeeper started talking about her late father, she stood tall and gave a heartfelt speech about what a difference he made in her life before his death of a heart attack in 2014.

"Life is not easy and I learned that at a very young age," said Lehrke, a sophomore last season. "It's something I work with every day. There's definitely times where I step out onto the field and it hits me again. In the game, you have to be mentally ready as a goalie. You can't really check out. Every day is a new opportunity and a new gift to be a better form of yourself and impact others."

Many of the athletes honored at Tuesday's inaugural Star Tribune All-Metro Sports Awards gala at Target Field are used to being on the big stage under the bright lights — performing at their peak when it matters most.

Last fall, the Star Tribune Sports department expanded its preps coverage with a series of upgrades to broaden the scope of news, features and game stories online and in print, which culminated with the gala Tuesday night to celebrate the best in Twin Cities high school sports.

Star Tribune sports committee members made all of the final selections. Nominations for the Courage in Competition, Difference-maker and Student-first awards were solicited from the public. The remaining award-winners emerged from the committee's research, observations and healthy debates.