Ask three seniors on the Stillwater girls' lacrosse team what it would be like to finally defeat powerhouses Blake or Eden Prairie at the state tournament, and they'll look at each other with wide-eyed anticipation.
"It would be huge," forward Ashley Ludack said.
The Ponies' success is evident. They are the six-time defending Suburban East Conference champions (2009-14) and have won four consecutive Section 4 titles (2011-14). They had three fourth-place finishes at the state tournament before finishing third last season.
At state, Stillwater has lost to Blake, the five-time defending state champ, in the semifinals the past three seasons. And, in their first state trip, the Ponies lost to Eden Prairie in the 2011 semifinals.
"We had tough games with them," Ludack said. "We gave them a run for their money."
That's why finally defeating one of these two squads would mean so much. It would open the door for other teams, too, said Anna Corman, another senior forward.
"I feel like we're ready to play them again," Corman said. "We know what to expect."
This season is off to a strong start for the Ponies. Through April 20, they have a 3-1 record, outscoring opponents 65-12. Eleven girls scored for Stillwater in a 21-2 victory at Lakeville North, redemption from a one-goal loss last year. The Ponies followed that up with a 21-0 shutout of Mounds View.
A blip was the 8-7 loss to Prior Lake after Stillwater held a 5-2 halftime lead. Prior Lake capitalized on Stillwater's mistakes in the second half.
"We just, as a team, let it slip away from us," coach Rick Reidt said. "Actually, losing that game was better for us."
Better, because then his players could learn from their mistakes, he said.
That's not the only thing players learn when they're part of Stillwater girls' lacrosse. The team philosophy is to focus on the effort, not the outcome. "We rarely, if ever, talk about winning," Reidt said.
They also stick to three team rules: Do what's right, do your best and treat others as you would like to be treated. The coaches teach their players to play with intensity but not high emotion. That's different from what they see with other teams that focus on winning and see their emotions run high.
"Our coach always says to put our best effort in," senior Remi Larson said.
The team's recipe for success isn't one that's changed much. Team values are consistent every year, and the girls have bought into them, Reidt said. They model themselves after former coach John Wooden's "pyramid of success,'' 15 traits focused on faith and patience; everything is based around that, Larson said.
"One thing that's unique … we've improved every year," Reidt said. "We just think we're going in the right direction."
Last season Stillwater lost to Eden Prairie in overtime. Getting over the hurdle and defeating the elite will just take consistency with the team's core philosophy, according to Reidt. Eden Prairie and Blake have set the bar, and Stillwater tries to keep matching it, assistant coach Brian Gould said.
"We think we're right there," Reidt said.
They're not doing anything different, he said. The players weight train, work on their lacrosse skills in the offseason and have yoga sessions. This year's team has the most depth of any since the program started in 2008, according to the coaches.
"Last year, we had a young team," Reidt said. "This year, it's turned completely around. We have a very experienced team."
That experience is a big factor in their success, Larson said.
"We want to see each other do well," Corman said.