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Grace Lilla shows off some of the gifts received as one of seven seniors for the Stillwater girls lacrosse team who were honored by their coaches teammates and parents on Sunday, May 17. (Contributed photo)

It was a terrible day for a parade, but the Stillwater girls lacrosse team continued to make the best of a challenging situation while honoring its seven seniors from season lost to COVID-19.

The show of support began at the Old Athletic Field in Stillwater, where Ponies coach Rick Reidt unsuspectingly arrived to a line of cars setting up for a parade.

“My wife said let’s go to Chilkoot (Cafe and Cyclery),” Reidt said. “She drove past (Chilkoot) and I thought she would turn around, but we kept going to the Old Athletic Field and there were 30 cars lined up. I didn’t know anything about it.”

From there, the caravan drove around to surprise the seniors with a show of support.

“We went from one senior house to the next,” Reidt said. “Their parents had them outside to do something and we honked and went by the houses of all seven seniors.”

The parade ended in front of the stadium at Stillwater Area High School.

It rained steadily throughout the day, but the players then assembled near the pavilion in downtown Stillwater’s Lowell Park where the seniors were presented framed shadow box with their jersey, a banner and a Senior Barbie doll, which is a team tradition.

“It was pouring rain out the whole time,” Reidt said. “It was quite a nice honor for those seven seniors and that’s how we ended those things.”

As part of the jersey presentation, Reidt announced those numbers for the seniors are being “retired”. Those numbers include: No. 1 (Britta Nelson), No. 7 (Lauren Einan), No. 8 (Meredith Parry), No. 15 (Grace Lilla), No. 16 (Katelyn Shanahan), No. 21 (Abby Scheel) and No. 32 (Lainey Charlsen).

“Once the season was canceled we decided to do that,” Reidt said.

It was a fun experience during a stretch that has featured little to celebrate since the Minnesota State High School League announced the cancellation of all spring sports and activities on April 23.

“Bittersweet is the word I used,” Reidt said.

Some of the spring sports seasons were underway when activities were suspended in mid-March, but lacrosse had not even held its first practice.

“I know this is everybody, but our team and players, they took this very hard,” Reidt said. “We never got to start our season. It would have been nice to have a week, but we never started.”

Even though the season never started, the players and coaches prepared as though it might. Between virtual yoga classes, self-directed training, videos to watch and regular meetings, the team didn’t stop preparing.

Stillwater also held a Game Day Challenge with the Chanhassen girls lacrosse team and the Ponies were up to the task.

The challenge, which was open to the entire team, was set up to record via phone or watch the number of miles completed during a two-hour stretch on Tuesday, April 21 — whether it’s walking, running, biking, skipping or jumping. Forty-four players and two coaches participated for Stillwater and they logged 405.58 miles, nearly three times the total of Chanhassen’s 17 participants (142.38 miles).

“That was a fun thing, but then a few days later they canceled the season,” Reidt said.

It was nevertheless an example of Stillwater’s enthusiasm for a season that carried high expectations.

The Ponies returned four all-state players from a team that finished 14-5 and won its ninth straight Section 4 championship. Stillwater also finished 8-0 in the Suburban East Conference to win its 10th league title in 11 seasons.

The only member of this year’s senior class who is not planning to play a sport in college is Shanahan, who is planning to major in civil engineering at the University of Minnesota. Five of the seniors are expected to play college lacrosse, including Charlsen (University of Mesa Colorado), Lilla (Arizona State), Parry (Lindenwood), Nelson (UW-La Crosse) and Scheel (Northwestern University). Einan is planning to play hockey at St. Thomas.

“Our team worked really hard over the winter,” Reidt said. “It was going to be one of those years where we have a really experienced senior class. It seems like every three years you get those classes where you have multiple starters back and a good supporting junior and sophomore class and some ninth-graders with some experience, but you never know. The weird part is you can never replace those things they would have experienced. The wins and the losses, it just doesn’t happen.”

The coach remains optimistic that lacrosse will be played this summer and adjustments are being made in order to include those from the Class of 2020.

“It’s hard, and it’s really affected these kids, but we’re planning to play this summer,” Reidt said. “In a normal summer the seniors don’t play, but this summer we’ve invited them all to play in our summer program with the community club team.”

The St. Croix Eagles are that club team and he’s hoping they get an opportunity to play some of the teams they didn’t get an opportunity to face during the canceled high school season.

“It’s the backbone of our program,” said Reidt, who said he’s concerned about keeping younger players involved with the sport after missing out on so much this spring said. “We’re organized in the summer until the end of July. We’re hoping to have a summer season and training, but we’ll have to modify it.

“If we can start to train and play these summer games, it will replace — especially for the seniors — what they missed out on.”

Contact Stuart Groskreutz at stuart.groskreutz@ecm-inc.com

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