What if: That's what the talented Prior Lake lacrosse teams have left after their seasons were cancelled.
What if the coronavirus pandemic didn't cancel spring sports across the state? What if the Lakers were allowed to defend the boys and girls state titles?
"I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around not being able to play my final season," said senior Josie Kropp, who helped lead the girls team to the program's first-ever state crown last spring with an 18-1 record. "It's a very weird feeling that's really tough to put into words."
Gov. Tim Walz's executive order April 23 to keep schools closed for the rest of the academic year resulted in the Minnesota State High School League canceling all spring sports.
It's a bitter pill to swallow for every team, including the many seniors.
At Prior Lake, the tennis courts are empty, as is the synchronized swimming pool. No team golf, trap shooting or track. A talented Lakers baseball team won't get a chance to show what it could do under second-year coach Al Iversen, while Kelsey Anderson never got to step onto the diamond in her first season as Prior Lake's softball coach.
And then there's lacrosse. Over the last four years, both Prior Lake's programs have become the envy of many teams across the state. The boys have won three of the last four state titles (2016, 2017 and 2019).
The girls have amassed an incredible 82-10 overall record and a 44-1 mark in the South Suburban Conference since 2015, including four section crowns in that span. The team as won 36 straight league games.
Last spring, the Lakers were second school to ever win both the boys and girls state titles in the same season. Blake is the only other one to do that in 2008.
No school has ever pulled off double back-to-back crowns. That's what Prior Lake would have been shooting for this spring — a little piece of MSHSL history.
"This senior class was doing a great job carrying on the championship culture that previous classes had laid before them," Prior Lake boys Coach Casey Mithun said.
"Stepping on the field or not, I'm very proud of the leaders and young men they have become. To have the opportunity to compete with their teammates and represent their community taken away from them is heartbreaking. They deserved greatness like the leaders of this program before them."
Mithun said the team-first culture the program has developed in his recent success — four straight Section 6 titles — has been embraced at every level. Every senior class has carried that on.
"I have no doubt that this team would have done great things behind the 2020 senior class's leadership," Mithun said. "I'm proud that they have been able to win championships as players and truly heartbroken that they don't get that same opportunity as the leaders as seniors. They have still made great impacts on our program's culture."
Prior Lake girls Coach Heather Pierson said April 23 was an "emotional day."
"I told the team on our Zoom team workout that afternoon," Pierson said. "Tears were shed, questions asked, and a moment of loss shared together. I know how hard these players worked to put them back in a position to fight for another state championship.
"The players knew that we had a lot of shoes to fill from last year after graduating seven seniors, six of them being starters," Pierson added. "We were going to have a new team on that field this year. I wasn't worried, though. Prior Lake girls lacrosse has the passion, grit and competitiveness to be successful."
The Laker girls were the heavy favorite to defend their state title. The team was ranked nationally by US Lacrosse Magazine.
"As much as this team prepared and would have continued to prepare for another championship, it’s not just about the last game of the season for me or this program," Pierson said. "It is all the details in between. I didn’t sign up to coach because of just a dream to win a state championship.
"Their success off the field is more important to me than their success on the field," Pierson added. "True champions are made from within and through that desire, championships are won."
The girls had three seniors: Kropp, Nina Polk, and Tayler Netzke. The boys had seven: Ryley Bester, Alex Jacobson, Colin Nauertz, Colin Tushie, Will Gilbert, Conor Miller and Connor Mack.
Kropp said she'd give anything to play another game at Dan Patch Stadium, the Lakers' home turf, but the great memories are still there for her.
"As amazing as it would be to play for a back to back state championship and spend one last season with my team, I'm still so grateful for the time I got to play for Prior Lake," Kropp said, who play this fall at Marquette University. "The feeling of winning the championship last year was indescribable and something I will always remember.
"It's hard to walk away when I want to experience that feeling again," Kropp added. "I'm thankful for all of my coaches, teammates and supporters for making the last four years the best I could have asked for."