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A preseason scrimmage at White Bear Lake became an inauspicious start to the 2024 girls lacrosse season for Park of Cottage Grove. Five of the team's 12 starters were new to the lineup, and their inexperience showed in a loss.

"We thought, 'It's going to be a long year,' " coach Scott Leonard said. "Our [Suburban East] conference is so deep that I thought we could finish anywhere from first to sixth."

To their credit, the Wolfpack regrouped to defeat White Bear Lake in the second game of the regular season. As they kept winning, opposing coaches took notice. Park of Cottage Grove (12-1) earned ninth place in this week's Minnesota State High School Girls' Lacrosse Coaches Association rankings.

Leonard knew he would be forced to replace four seniors. He was not counting on the loss of junior goalie Aubree Laska to a hockey injury. As a result, sophomore Lauryn Ehrenstrom moved from projected part-time starter to wearing the saddle all season. She met the challenge with a 12-1 record.

As for the runners, Madi Brinkman became the team's go-to scorer with 64 goals. Josie Leonard added 29 goals and 14 assists. Those two juniors were known quantities coming into the season, though.

Players seeing their first varsity action this spring included midfielders Alaina Wright (freshman) and Sidni Gitzen (sophomore), plus defenders Tori Henderson (senior) and Hollen Thompson (junior).

A few of those new faces made a 6-5 victory against East Ridge on May 10 possible. The Wolfpack edged the Raptors in the five overtimes on Gitzen's winning goal and what Scott Leonard called "five pretty solid saves" from Ehrenstrom as the overtimes mounted.

"I think that was the game where our girls really started believing," Leonard said.

The Section 3 playoffs begin Tuesday, and Park of Cottage Grove should secure the No. 1 seed. Not that the distinction would matter much to Leonard. He views Section 3 like the Suburban East Conference — which is to say deep and treacherous. Last year, the top-seeded Wolfpack fell to No. 5 seed Simley.

State rankings

By the Minnesota Girls' Lacrosse Coaches Association (records through Tuesday)

1. Lakeville South 11-0-0; 2. Prior Lake 10-1-0; 3. Benilde-St. Margaret's 10-1-1; 4. Eden Prairie 10-2-0; 5. Stillwater 8-3-0; 6. Champlin Park 12-0-0; 7. Minnetonka 11-1-0; 8. Orono 9-2-0; 9. Park of Cottage Grove 10-1-0; 10. Maple Grove 8-2-1.