"I think we are on the verge of breaking into the top tier of teams in our conference, head coach Adam Gamradt said. "We will look back on this year as the one where we really turned the corner."
The team backed up their coachs words as they weathered 5 a.m. wakeup calls and a rigorous four games in three days schedule to garner fifth place in last weekends tournament.
Friday saw the Oles register an 8-1 victory over conference punching bag Bethel. The team had orchestrated a 19-4 beating of the Royals earlier in the season, but were content with playing sharp and coming away with a win.
"You never know how a team will respond come tournament time," Gamradt said. "Sometimes bad teams play well and good teams choke. I told our guys the competition is too high to take any team for granted."
After the game the focus quickly shifted to the Gophers of the University of Minnesota. Under the 8 a.m. sunshine at National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn. the Oles attempted to pull of one off the tournaments biggest upsets by taking down the heavily favored Gophers.
The game was tight all through the first half, but Minnesotas deep roster and powerful attack was too much for the Oles as they fell 8-2 to the eventual conference runner-up.
However, this was no reason for despair. In this double elimination style tournament, the team moved to the consolation bracket where, if they won their remaining two games, they could snag fifth place.
The squad drew Minnesota State University-Moorhead in the last game on Saturday and sent the Dragons to an 8-3 defeat. The Oles jumped out early and stayed on top until the game was well out of reach. The defense, led by goalie Lance Kuehn 05, completely stymied the Dragons attack, not allowing a goal until the fourth quarter.
Only one more team and one more early morning wakeup call stood between the team and fifth place. The Cyclones of Iowa State, the southernmost of UMLL competitors, presented the final hurdle. The out of state challengers gave the Oles a run for their money, but in the end it was a Chris Dorman 04 goal and one final save from Kuehn that preserved a 4-3 triumph.
For their individual efforts Rajan Vatassery 03, who played the majority of the tournament despite a badly ailing shoulder, and John Chapman 03, the teams leading scorer, were awarded all-conference honorable mentions.
With the marked improvement in involvement and performance, what is the future of lacrosse at St. Olaf?
"I am proud of the way we finished this year and I really look forward to next year," Kuehn said. "Everyone coming back is going to practice hard over the summer and we are going to work on recruiting new players for the fall.
Kuehn added that this years success would not have come to fruition without the dedication of the teams seniors. "They have made tremendous sacrifices to give the next generation of athletes a chance to play lacrosse," he said. "I am glad we could send them out on a high note and I hope they are proud of what they have built. They are the embodiment of St. Olaf lacrosse."
As for physical performance on the field, expectations could not be higher. After the Saturday games, knowing the UMLL title was out of reach, Gamradt, who was a member of a UMLL championship team in his collegiate days, gathered his team and displayed the UMLL championship trophy.
"I want you all to touch this knowing we will hold it together someday," Gamradt said.
The Oles have confidence, dedication and a burning will to win. Maybe someday will be sooner rather then later.