Wildcats’ offense breaks it open

Another outburst of goals brings state lacrosse championship

Joey Hofmann of Eagan drives toward the Benilde-St. Margaret’s goal during the state boys lacrosse championship game Saturday. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

The question wasn’t so much if the goal explosion would come. It was how long it would last, and if Benilde-St. Margaret’s could recover.

The Red Knights learned the same thing most of Eagan’s boys lacrosse opponents learned this season – once the Wildcats started rolling, they were nearly impossible to stop.

A six-goal run in the second and third quarters put Eagan ahead to stay on its way to a 19-12 victory in the state championship game Saturday at Chanhassen High School and the Wildcats’ first title.

The Wildcats trailed 5-2 early in the second quarter before their offense started motoring. Eagan (18-1) averaged 16 goals a game and was just one goal short of 300 for the season. It scored at least 11 in all 18 victories.

“It starts with our defense,” said senior attackman Brandon Wuertz, a Mr. Lacrosse Award finalist. “Defense isn’t just the long sticks, it’s our attack, our middies, our goalie, everything. When we make a big stop, our middies just take off and we get fast breaks. We like to play aggressive.”

Wuertz, with 71 goals and 19 assists this season, is the Wildcats’ leading scorer but is not their only threat. Seven Eagan players had at least two goals in the state championship game.

The Wildcats began honing their quick-striking style last summer, shortly after winning the consolation championship at the 2016 state high school tournament.

“We played a lot of summer tournaments, and that’s kind of how you had to play,” said senior midfielder Darby Sorensen, a Wildcats captain. “A lot of teams that aren’t from Minnesota are running those types of offenses, and we had to fall in sync with that.”

It wasn’t necessarily a style being ingrained into Eagan teams, but “it’ll be taught throughout the program now. Look at what just happened,” Sorensen said with a grin.

Wuertz, Sorensen and junior attackman Isaac Peifer each had three goals in the championship game. Scoring two each were Cole Powell, Aaron Propson, Joey Mills and Joey Diffley. Andrew Chvatal and Tate Sundberg scored once each.

Wuertz also had three assists. Joey Hofmann had two assists and won 23 of 26 faceoffs (88 percent). Goalie Jack Courington, a first-team All-State selection, made seven saves.

Eagan played only one game all season decided by fewer than four goals, and that was its 12-11 overtime victory over Mahtomedi in the state semifinals June 14 at Minnetonka High School. The Wildcats trailed by three goals early in the fourth quarter before coming back to tie the game. Powell scored the winning goal at 58 seconds of overtime.

“That was a little nerve-wracking for everyone,” Powell said. “But the coaches have taught us how to handle that pressure all year, and it showed tonight.”

The 2016 state tournament run helped the Wildcats believe they could do more in 2017

“We brought back a good combination of guys from last year,” coach Bob Felter said. “We lost some seniors, but the guys who filled in this year were just a tad better.

Eagan claims the state boys lacrosse championship trophy. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

“It wasn’t anything (the coaches) did per se, we just carried it over from last year and added a couple new parts.”

Eastview, ranked No. 1 in the state at the time, was the only team to contain Eagan’s offense in a 12-7 Lightning victory May 18. The Wildcats resolved to not let that happen again.

“The thing that really fueled us was our loss to Eastview,” Wuertz said. “When we lost to them, we had a chip on our shoulder the rest of the season.”

Sorensen said the Wildcats also drew motivation from Felter receiving the state coach of the year award. Felter has been Eagan’s head coach for 12 years and has been involved in the sport locally since moving to Minnesota in 2000.

“After he received the coach of the year award, we felt like it was bigger than just our team,” Sorensen said. “We kind of almost had to win that one for Felter. He’s been putting his time in. He’s had teams that were able to do it but just fell short. He believed in us and we believed in him.”

The outcome was Eagan’s first state boys lacrosse championship and the second in a row for the South Suburban Conference (Prior Lake defeated Lakeville North for the 2016 title).

“We all wanted to come back here. It’s the greatest time of your life. There’s nothing else like this,” Wuertz said. “I’m a senior and you can’t beat this, to go out on top.”