After his team won a big game Tuesday night and advanced to the state championship contest, Eastview boys lacrosse coach Tim Roche talked about one key component – or maybe two key components -- of his team.
“We thought all year we had the No. 1 and No. 2 best players in the state,” Roche said, talking about senior Jacob Heppner and junior Ryan McNamara, who just happen to own two of the game’s most prestigious awards.
Heppner was named this season’s Mr. Lacrosse by the state coaches association and the St. Paul Pioneer Press has named McNamara its player of the year. That’s a pretty tough combination to beat, as all but one of the Lightning’s opponents have discovered this season.
Tuesday evening’s 15-6 victory over Edina at Chanhassen High School pushed Eastview’s record to 15-1. The lone loss was a 9-8 decision against Lakeville North; the Lightning avenged that defeat with a 9-5 win over Lakeville North in the Section 4 playoffs.
McNamara (right) was the star of Tuesday’s game, finishing with four goals and four assists. Three of his goals came in the third quarter, when Eastview outscored Edina 5-1 to open an 11-5 lead.
“He’s a great player,” Roche said of McNamara. “He’s been doing that all year for us. He’s a complete player, he can put the ball in the net, he makes his teammates better. He did a great job of making his teammates better today.”
Heppner assisted on McNamara’s third goal and scored Eastview’s final goal unassisted before hobbling off the field with an injured ankle.
“On that last goal I kind of rolled it a little bit but it’ll be all right,” he said with a bag of ice taped to his right ankle.
Roche said of Heppner, “He brings veteran leadership. He’s righthanded but we put him in spots where he’s lefthanded a lot, so over half his goals this year are with his left hand. He’s right up there, top 10 in goals and top 10 in assists in the state. The Mr. Lacrosse award recognizes what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.”
Roche has been Eastview’s coach throughout the varsity program’s six-year history. This is the Lightning’s fourth appearance in the state tournament; their best finish was runner-up to Minnetonka in 2009. None of the current players were on that team.
Last season ended with Eagan beating Eastview in overtime in section play. Ever since that day, the Lightning’s No. 1 goal has been getting to state and taking home a championship trophy.
“It’s what we’ve been working for,” Heppner (left) said. “Now we’ve got one more game to finish it.”
Top-seeded Eastview will meet No. 3 seed Eden Prairie in Thursday’s championship game at Chanhassen. The Eagles advanced with a 15-2 victory over Totino-Grace in Tuesday’s second semifinal. Brooks Armitage made a pretty significant statement, scoring five goals for Eden Prairie.
Eden Prairie has never won a state title in three championship-game appearances. The Eagles lost to Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the inaugural 2007 title game, to Blake a year later and to Benilde-St. Margaret’s last year.
If Eastview is to win its first title on Thursday, McNamara and Heppner will have a great deal to do with the outcome. I asked each of them to describe the other.
“There are not too many people who are better than that kid,” Heppner said of McNamara. “He works harder than anyone I know and that’s why he’s so good. In lacrosse, lifting or conditioning he’s always the hardest worker. Playing alongside that kid is nice because you’ve got someone to back you up if you’re not doing well.”
Conversely, McNamara said Heppner has “speed, vision, he can go with both hands, he’s so quick he always finds seams to find me or Tanner (Hamill) wide open. He’s just got great vision.”
McNamara also spoke about Tuesday’s big victory, while looking toward Thursday.
“As a team we had a great game, probably one of our best,” he said. “But we can still play better.”
That’s a scary thought.
--To see a photo gallery from Tuesday's games, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
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