Lightning lacrosse emphasizes esprit de corps

Eastview defending conference, state titles

Mitch Beattie (14) is one of Eastview’s returnees as the Lightning defends its state boys lacrosse championship. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Mitch Beattie (14) is one of Eastview’s returnees as the Lightning defends its state boys lacrosse championship. Photo by Rick Orndorf

One of the highlights of Eastview’s pre-season boys lacrosse preparation was the intra-program dodgeball tournament.

That’s what happens when pre-season practice lasts longer than anyone anticipated. Teams were allowed to start practice April 1, but the Lightning’s season opener has been delayed several times by bad weather. Eastview was supposed to play Rosemount on Tuesday in a battle of highly ranked teams, but the game was postponed because snow covered the Burnsville High School field the day before. The game was moved to Burnsville, which has an artificial turf field, because the grass fields at Rosemount and Eastview were nowhere near ready for use.

The Lightning’s season opener is now scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Bloomington Jefferson. With warmer temperatures in the forecast and Jefferson having an artificial turf field, it appears likely to happen.

But when the weather hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Or, in Eastview’s case, play dodgeball. Each of seven captains has been assigned a mentorship group made up of players from throughout the program’s four teams, an idea coach Tim Roche said he borrowed from the Army. Those groups made up seven of the dodgeball tournament teams, and the coaches formed an eighth squad.

One thing was apparent, Roche said: “The coaches took the longest time to recover.”

Dodgeball was not just a time-killer as the Lightning waited for their season to start. It built esprit de corps, Roche said, and togetherness is one of the things Eastview emphasized on its journey to become one of the state’s elite high school lacrosse programs, capped by last year’s state championship.

“We have a good group of players,” Roche said. “They’ve been in state tournaments, and

Eastview’s Michael Stillings celebrates a goal in last year’s state boys lacrosse championship game against Eden Prairie. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Eastview’s Michael Stillings celebrates a goal in last year’s state boys lacrosse championship game against Eden Prairie. Photo by Rick Orndorf

not just in lacrosse. We have a lot of football players, and they played at the Metrodome last fall (in the state playoffs). We have the three hockey captains, and they went to the Xcel Center for the state tournament. That kind of experience is one of our biggest strengths.”

Jake Heppner, the 2012 Mr. Lacrosse Award winner, is one of the players who graduated from last year’s state championship team, which finished 16-1. But it’s possible the Mr. Lacrosse Award won’t leave Eastview. Lightning senior attackman Ryan McNamara is one of the state’s top returning players and is coming off a 51-goal, 83-point season. McNamara has signed to play college lacrosse at Marquette University.

Much of Eastview’s offense will flow through McNamara, and defending against him figures to be a headache because he’s not just a shooter, as evidenced by his 32 assists last season.

“He does a great job of getting teammates involved,” Roche said. “If teams try to stop him, he knows it frees up his teammates. We saw that in the state championship game last year. Eden Prairie tried to take away Ryan in the first half, and we still had a big lead at halftime.”

Senior attackman Tanner Hamill scored two goals in the Lightning’s 10-4 victory over Eden Prairie in the 2012 state final. Brett Schweiger, Mitch Beattie, Shane Keanealey and Michael Stillings each scored once in the championship game.

Junior Ben Taschner and sophomore Jeremy LeClaire are competing for the starting goalie’s job. Veteran defenders such as Connor Mills, Jake McGlocklin and Scotty Pugmire will help protect the goalies.

The Lightning is No. 2 in the state rankings, with Eden Prairie at No. 1. South Suburban Conference schools Eagan (third), Prior Lake (fourth) and Rosemount (sixth) also are in the top 10.

Eastview played Prior Lake in a scrimmage earlier this month in St. Paul. If it had been an actual game, Prior Lake would have won, Roche said.

It confirmed that Prior Lake is a legitimate threat in the SSC, and “it gave us an idea of what we needed to work on,” Roche said. “I think we’ve improved in those areas, and hopefully we’ll be ready when we see Prior Lake the last week of the regular season.”

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