Lakeville South junior Logan Halvorson can’t help but notice the differences between this spring’s Cougars girls’ lacrosse team and the squad from a year ago.

Gone are the three all-state stars — one an All-American — who paced the Cougars’ 2013 offense. In their place is a crop of talented sophomores and juniors.

Gone, too, is Lakeville South’s 14 game regular-season unbeaten streak, one that dated to the start of the 2013 season. The Cougars have lost three times in 14 games this year, twice by one goal and once by two to three of the state’s top teams

Yet, Halvorson said, the Cougars are better than last season, more resilient and ready to do something no Lakeville South team has ever done: make a deep playoff run.

“We’ve worked so hard for this,” Halvorson said. “That’s the goal, and we have a really good chance to do it.”

The No. 6 Cougars (11-3) dominated Rochester Mayo 27-2 on Tuesday in the opening round of the Section 1 tournament. They played crosstown rival Lakeville North in the second round Friday, after this edition was printed.

Step right up

Sometimes, losing can be the best thing to happen to a team, Cougars coach Patrick Crandall said. Despite starting the 2014 season 3-0, Crandall felt his team was playing tight, the weight of the victory streak toying with players’ focus.

Then, the Cougars lost 15-13 to No. 8 Prior Lake on April 25. One-goal losses to No. 3 Apple Valley and No. 4 Benilde-St. Margaret’s occurred later in the spring.

All three defeats came despite the Cougars holding four-goal leads in each game.

“Once that loss [to Prior Lake] happened, we figured out some things about our team, and the girls learned that they’ll be OK as long as they can learn from it,” Crandall said. “We’ve been learning from our losses, I think we’ve put them to good use.”

The losses pushed the learning curve for Crandall’s young team, which starts only one senior — 50-goal scorer Brooke Galle. The rest of the lineup is filled with juniors and sophomores.

Halvorson, the team’s center midfielder and draw specialist, has more than 100 ground balls and is third on the team in scoring. Fellow junior Madeline Canney leads the team in points.

“These were all kids who were a part of the team last year but now play much bigger roles,” Crandall said. “We had the right girls to fill in, and it’s nice to see them get it done like this.”

Road to redemption

Despite starting the season 12-0 in 2013, the Cougars lost in the section tournament to Lakeville North, a loss that still stings.

“It was devastating,” Halvorson said.

But, now, Halvorson said the Cougars have retooled and can draw on that experience to continue their success this year.

“We’re focused on our next step,” she said. “We’re just a team that works, from the opening draw to the buzzer. We’re just going to work to get to where we want to go.”