Forest Lake sophomore Mikaela Ness said she could hardly remember the goal she scored in the Section 7 girls lacrosse championship game at Osseo Wednesday night, even less than half an hour after it happened.
"I blacked out, I don't really remember it," Ness said.
After the No. 3 seed Rangers and top seeded Champlin Park had played to a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation, junior Bailey O'Donovan controlled the overtime draw, and freshman Brooke Glumack picked up the ball and made a run toward the Champlin Park goal. The packed Rebel defense pushed Glumack toward the sideline, but she spotted Ness open behind the net. A quick pass, then Ness rounded the goal and took advantage of a weakness she had noticed in goalie Jackie Freeman's game.
"I just saw Brooke lock eyes with me, and I knew [Freeman] was having trouble going low," Ness said.
Ness' low shot went in, and the Rangers won a sudden-death section title, 7-6. Ness ran just a few feet toward the sideline before collapsing in disbelief. The Ranger field players dogpiled on top of her in celebration and were soon joined by the bench players.
Ness' goal, along with the section title and state tournament berth it clinched, is just one more historic moment in the best lacrosse season ever seen in the decade-long history of the Forest Lake program. Already this season, the Rangers had already finished a team-record second in the Suburban East Conference, advanced farther in the playoffs than ever before in reaching the championship game, and won more games than ever before -- the section final pushed the number to 15; the previous record, set just last year, was 8.
The Rangers and Rebels took the field after having watched Maple Grove beat Buffalo in the Section 8 title game, and at least a few Maple Grove players were still in the stadium during the Section 7 game, perhaps scouting the possible state tournament opponents.
The Section 7 game was a tale of two strategies: While Forest Lake used long passes and sprinting direct-to-goal runs to crash the Rebel net and make lightning-fast attacks, the Rebels often preferred to slow the game to a walking pace, working around the edge of the offensive zone and using off-the-ball movement to set up the exact pass they wanted or draw a penalty near the net.
"We talk every game about communication," head coach Jenna Brown said. "We talked about their play; everyone knew what was going on at the net. Our defense worked 110 percent and they deserve a lot of the credit for this game."
Defensive starters Anna Reifschneider, Lily Bartholmy, Lindsey Muntifering and Sam Howell led a backfield effort that stymied the Rebel chessmaster strategy and kept the score low.
The Rebels scored first through Brooke Freeman, after 7 minutes, 40 second of play, but freshman Erin Brown equalized less than a minute later. Her initial low effort was saved, but a rebound skipped in front of the goal, and after a lengthy stick fight between a number of Rangers and Rebels, Brown regained possession and scored on the second try.
Junior Taylor Glumack gave the Rangers a lead a shortly afterward, but in the three minutes that followed, the Rebels scored twice to steal the lead back. That was exactly the kind of game it was - a see-saw affair where neither team ever led by more than one goal.
The Rangers swung in front late in the half on another goal from Taylor Glumack and the first of what would prove to be three from O'Donovan.
"[O'Donovan] is sneaky, she's calm, she surprises everybody," Brown said. "We told Bailey, take the ball and go score."
The Rebels tied the game at 4-4 early in the second half, and took a final lead at 5-4 with 15 minutes left. O'Donovan scored two times in the next two minutes to take the lead back before the Rebels' Camryn Mayer scored with six minutes to go to tie at 6-6.
That would prove to be the Rebels' final offensive foray. The Rangers controlled possession for the last six minutes of regulation time, and though they had plenty of chances, Jackie Freeman made big saves to keep the Rangers at bay.
She could not make the save on the first and only shot of overtime, however, which came only 17 seconds after play resumed.
"Our plan was to go to goal right away," Brown said.
Although Ranger goalie Hannah Melander had little to do in the late stages, she played an excellent game the rest of the night, stopping 9 of 15 Rebel shots and often starting Ranger attacks with long passes to midfield.
The Rangers now head to the first ever state tournament, though don't call them underdogs or the new kids.
"We've said we're not the underdogs; we have full confidence in ourselves," Ness said. "We know that we can win any game."
which will be played June 11, 13 and 15. The first day of action will be held at Minnetonka, and the rest of the tournament will be hosted by Chanhassen.
The seeding and schedule will be determined sometime after the last berths are claimed Thursday. In addition to Forest Lake and Maple Grove, state spots have been clinched by Lakeville North (Section 1), Eden Prairie (2), Stillwater (4), Breck (5)
The finals in Sections 3 (Rosemount vs. Cretin-Derham Hall) and 6 (Prior Lake vs. Edina) are still to be played.
The tournament will play out like most MSHSL events, with a consolation tournament and third-place game in addition to the main championship bracket. The Rangers are guaranteed to play on June 11 and 13, and will play on June 15 if they win at least one game.
To win even one game would bring their season total to 16, doubling their best effort in any previous season. The Rangers enter the state tournament with a record of 15-1; since Brown took over last year, the Rangers are 23-8.
"We are 100 percent a family, and sisters, and a team, and it shows every game and every practice," Brown said.