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Girls lacrosse preview: Irish embark on their first solo season

The Wild Irish girls lacrosse team enjoyed a memorable post-season run last spring as the Rosemount-Eagan cooperative followed up a 6-6 regular season with three straight section tournament wins to advance within a game of the state tournament.

Now, both teams will see what they can do on their own. With the roster ballooning to 50 players last season, the schools decided to end their six-year partnership and form their own teams. That means a season of transition for both squads as the players go from being teammates to being opponents in at least two South Suburban Conference meetings per season.

"We had some pretty large rosters, so I think this year kids are going to get more playing time. It's a bittersweet thing because the girls had some good relationships with the Eagan kids. It was interesting to see how the rival schools came together like they did," said Rosemount coach Jeff Smith, who coached the Wild Irish the last two seasons. "It will be interesting when the schools play each other to see how that all matches up. I think the girls like the fact that they're playing for their own school."

Nine varsity players return on the Rosemount side, including returning starters and captains Cassie Miller (attacker), Maddie Johnson (midfielder) and Sydney Lubeley (defender). Miller, who has already committed to playing Division II lacrosse in college, supplied 12 goals and 25 assists last regular season. Johnson had 11 goals and five assists.

"Miller was our top assist-getter. She's going to be one of our key offensive players," Smith said. "Maddie Johnson will pick up the slack, also."

Midfielders Emma Murray and Shannon Swanson are also back after serving as key players off the bench last season. Attackers Kourtney Mitchell and Bethann Dugstad, midfielder Madi Lubeley and defender Jordyn Kendrick round out the list of returning players.

"We're counting on that whole group to be our core as we get rolling this season," Smith said. "I'm feeling confident with this group we have coming in and some nice young players coming up from the JV team that we're hoping will step in and help our varsity."

One spot where the Irish will definitely be counting on a JV up-and-comer is in the net, where Alexis Raeth looks to be the favorite to win the varsity job.

"She worked really hard over the winter playing in leagues and getting 1-on-1 training and going to captains practices," Smith said. "She's working to make that jump to varsity in the net. Right now she's our only goalie. We're going to have to find some people to give it a try and give us some depth."

Raeth will have to get acclimated to the varsity game quickly if the Irish are going to improve on last season's overall record of 9-7, and come out on top of a few of the six games they lost by a combined 12 goals last season. Smith is hoping the experience the Irish have sprinkled across the field will help them be at their best by the time the section tournament rolls around.

"I think we have the experience to be successful with the handful of kids we have who made it to the section finals last year," he said. "They have a good understanding of what's expected and what they will have to do to be at that level of competition. Our main goal is to be in the top half of the conference and make another good run in the section tournament."

The Irish play their home opener April 10 against East Ridge at Irish Stadium. School and district officials will be in attendance for a pre-game ceremony and University of Minnesota women's lacrosse coach Janet Holdsworth will conduct a ceremonial face-off.