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Girls lacrosse: Tigers are thinking big

Senior captains Rachael Welzin (left) and Maddie Kohlbeck are back to lead the Farmington girls lacrosse team this spring. Welzin and Kohlbeck are the first two Tiger girls lacrosse players to sign letters of intent to play collegiately.

The Farmington girls lacrosse team started to click during the second half of last season.

The Tigers sat at just 2-6 before they put together a six-game winning streak that included a section tournament win over Rochester John Marshall. With 16 letter-winners back for the first day of practice Monday at Tiger Stadium, head coach Dan Pickens is optimistic his team can pick up where it left off a season ago.

“This year will be bigger, mark my words. I have played and coached teams like this. The groups that have good leadership, work hard at practice and don’t know when to quit — these are the teams that exceed expectations,” said Pickens, whose team finished with an 8-7 record. “We are ready to go. The captains have been holding practices getting everyone up to speed so we can hit the ground running. I know with the leadership we have, the team will be ready to play on April 10.”

Along with leadership, Pickens expects the strengths of this year’s team to be its defense and goalkeeping. The Tigers were strong in those areas last year, but really took off as the offense got going in the second half of the season. During the 2-6 start, the Tigers scored 59 goals for an average of 7.3 per game and never scored more than nine goals in a game. During the 6-1 second half, they notched 82 goals for an average of 11.7 per game and reached double figures five times.

“We graduated a lot of scoring and it took us a while to get the groove back last year,” Pickens said. “As the season progressed, we learned to score, which was what boosted us to our successful finish.”

Leading the offense will be the team’s top two scorers from a season ago — captain Rachael Welzin and Shelby Klotz. Welzin, who will play collegiately at Colorado State next season, scored a team-high 56 points as a midfielder last season, and Klotz paced the Tiger attackers with 43 points.

Other returning attackers include Ashley Steffes (10 points), Jessica Herrera (8 points), Lindsay Benson and Brooke Raske. Kaeli Halverson is back at the center position and Amanda Davenport, Jill Tollefson and Delaney Johnson provide experience at midfield.

Experience will also be an asset in front of the net, where Maddie Kohlbeck returns for her fourth year as the starter. The senior, who has signed to play at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., next season, had 157 saves and a goals-against average of 8.8 last season.

“She is a leader and an inspiration to all athletes. She has overcome a torn MCL and ACL and a broken finger and came back to be stellar in net,” Pickens said.

Kohlbeck will be fronted by a quintet of returning defensive players — Shaye Jenrich, Becky Genzler, Mikayla Todd, Kylee Glen and Breanna Raske.

Pickens is also expecting to bolster his varsity roster with a talented group of younger players. The Tiger JV has a combined record of 22-2-1 the last two years and the 7-8 team has competed for state championships the last two seasons.

“They have some serious talent. They are finally joining us and will provide some much-needed depth,” he said. “They are fast, skilled and hungry for a chance to play varsity ball this year. The competition will be invited.”

The Tigers open the season at home next Thursday against Rosemount. Opening face-off is at 7 p.m.