The Prior Lake girls lacrosse team has climbed to the top of the mountain.
The Lakers are champions at last after their dominating 17-12 win over top-seeded Eden Prairie in the state title game June 15 in Chanhassen.
Sophomore Payton Bloedow led the offense with six goals and three assists. Junior Josie Kropp dominated the faceoffs. Senior Kelsey Viger anchored a physical, relentless defense. And senior Grace Mattox was stellar in goal.
Those four were named to the all-tournament team, but this championship, a first for the Lakers' program and first-ever for a female team sport in Prior Lake High School history, was a team effort.
Second-seeded Prior Lake played with an intensity and grit the Eagles just couldn't match.
"This is indescribable," Kropp said. "This is years of hard work. We've working toward this for a while, and now it's finally here. We are state champions. Everyone on this team played their part."
Prior Lake was fifth at state in 2015, fourth in 2016 and third in 2017.
Last year, the Lakers fell by one goal to Apple Valley (13-12) in the Section 6 title game, which was the team's only loss of the year. Apple Valley went on to beat Eden Prairie for the crown.
So Prior Lake's goal was to finish the job this spring. A 10-8 loss to Eden Prairie in the regular season didn't derail the Lakers either.
Instead, it motivated the team, knowing it was right there with a program that was playing in its 12th championship game in 13 seasons, including winning three straight state titles from 2015 to 2017.
Prior Lake trailed Eden Prairie 5-4 midway through the first half but then took control. Ninth-grader Josie Wilhelm scored unassisted to tie the contest, which led to four more goals before the break for a 9-5 advantage.
The Lakers scored three of the first four goals in the second half to go up 12-6. Eden Prairie never got any closer than five goals the rest of the way.
Prior Lake led 17-9 after sophomore Mackenzie Salentre scored with 6:34 left to play.
The Lakers won 19 of 28 faceoffs in the game, and it was Kropp handling that tough duty. What's her secret to winning faceoffs? She's one of the state's best at it.
"I can't give away too much of my secrets because of next season," Kropp joked. "But we know that possessions are a big part of the game. I know my strengths, and I have faith in teammates to help me get the draw if I flip it back to them or I try to flip it back to myself."
On defense, Viger, a finalist for the state's Ms. Lacrosse Award, sets an aggressive tempo. Prior Lake pushes the envelope on how physical it can be.
Eden Prairie had a tough time getting to the net, and its cutters were often covered or harassed.
"We were prepared for whatever they were going to do," Viger said. "The last time we played them, we got called for a lot of stuff, so we needed to clean some things up.
"At the beginning, we started off a little rough," Viger added. "But we saw what we could do and what we couldn't do. We never want to give up easy goals."
A big sequence early in the second half helped key the Lakers' title. Eden Prairie had a free shot in front of the goal. A score, and it would be a 9-7 game.
But instead Mattox made a big save. Bloedow took the ball and went coast to coast for a goal to put Prior Lake up 10-6.
Five of Bloedow's six goals came in the second half. Four were unassisted. She had 13 goals in the three state games.
"We had the momentum on our side when we got up," Viger said. "Our energy was so up. We were not going to give up that lead."
Seniors Lauren Wick and Ashtyn King and Salentre each finished with three goals for the Lakers, while Kropp had a goal and an assist. Wick, Viger and senior Reagan Dahl each had an assist.
Mattox, who won the award for the state's top goalie, finished with seven saves.
The Lakers will graduate seven seniors — Wick, King, Viger, Mattox, Dahl, Jacqueline Little and Jordan Anderson. So there will be plenty of talent back next spring for the team to defend its crown.
Wilhelm, sophomore Jade Haugen, junior Tayler Netzke, ninth-graders Ryane Kearns, Ava Schiltz and Jayne Bernick, and eighth-graders Rachel Ward and Nina Winter will likely have bigger roles in the offense.
Sophomores Meghan McGowan, Kelsey Wick and Cayla Collins will return on defense, while sophomore Jordan Gardner will likely get the first shot to replace Mattox in goal.
Depth has been a strength of the Lakers' program over the years. How many teams can lose a player that had 29 goals and 21 assists as a junior and still win a state title, finishing 18-1 overall (9-0 in the South Suburban Conference)?
Those stats belong to Anderson, who missed the entire season with a knee injury suffered during the winter months. Her 50 points were a team-best last year.
The depth in the program has been created by second-year coach Heather Pierson and former head coach Ali Minelli-Fenstermacher, who led the team its first three state appearances in her six years as coach (2012 to 2017).
Since 2015, Prior Lake has amassed an incredible 82-10 overall record and a 44-1 mark in the SSC. The program has won 36 straight league games.