Owatonna girls lacrosse coach Bill Bernard, right, observes practice Wednesday afternoon. The Huskies, who played the southernmost sanctioned lacrosse game in Minnesota nearly 10 years ago, will play the northernmost game this weekend in Duluth. OHS is set to play Hermantown on Friday and Duluth East on Saturday. (Jon Weisbrod/People's Press)

Intentionally or not, the Owatonna girls lacrosse team is breaking down barriers.

Eight years ago, the Huskies began playing the sport at a varsity level, meaning Owatonna’s game against Eagan/Rosemount on April 15, 2008, was the furthest south the sport had ever been played in the state as sanctioned by the MSHSL.

This weekend, the Huskies will be breaking new ground in the other direction.

Agreeing to a pair of contests in Duluth, Owatonna will play Hermantown and Duluth East this weekend. Friday’s game against the Hawks will be the furthest north the sport will be played by two MSHSL teams. Being that Minnesota is the northernmost state in the country, the game could very-well be the furthest north the sport is being played in the entire continental United States.

“It’s pretty cool,” Owatonna senior Meghan Schuler said. “I’m excited.”

OHS coach Bill Bernard said the trip will also offer a little nostalgia. It wasn’t too many years ago that his program was transitioning from the club level to the MSHSL. He sympathizes with the growing pains that Hermantown and Duluth East may be experiencing and offers nothing but encouragement as they begin a new chapter in the sport’s history in the northern region of the state.

“It’s going to be a neat trip,” Bernard said. “It’s a little reminder of when we started our program. One of the cool things about the evolution of the lacrosse game here is when I first started I was able to learn from some of the coaches up in the Cities like Judy Baxter at Eden Prairie. She had the preeminent program back then and she did so much to help coaches like me develop. She would answer whatever questions I had and would be a great recourse. She was a great ambassador to growing the game. Now there is a greater knowledge of the game in all corners of the state. [Duluth East and Hermantown] will be just fine. It will just take some time like it does with any new team.”

Since Owatonna began playing as an MSHSL independent in 2008, a lot has changed, both internally and externally. The state’s governing body has added roughly 40 teams in the span and the Big Nine Conference will sponsor the girls and boys lacrosse for the first time this upcoming season.

Within the Huskies’ program, Bernard can still vividly recall the days when games consisted of chasing after countless ground balls and scrums of players simply trying to figure out what part of the field they were supposed to be covering.

“I mean, when our program first started, we were really happy if we could complete three passes in a row,” Bernard said. “When we played club, if you were the first to ground balls, you could win games.”

But through it all, a foundation was laid and Owatonna has emerged as perhaps the most stable girls program southern Minnesota. Bernard, who has been wildly successful against Big Nine teams since 2008, believes his current junior varsity squad would have been able to easily beat the OHS varsity eight years ago.

As for weekend the excursion up north, Bernard admits the 430-mile round trip wasn’t arranged to become a part of history. The reason behind scheduling the two-day outing was for a couple reasons.

First, it made sense logistically to spend the evening in Duluth and play on Friday and Saturday. Getting two games with “one bus,” as Bernard puts it, allows the Huskies to justify the trip financially. Bernard understands the challenges that Duluth and Hermantown will face in scheduling moving forward and was more than willing to help both teams see a quality nonconference opponent in their first years of existence.

“We are basically getting two away game trips in one bus ride,” Bernard said. “I’m cognoscente of the budget and the fact that we need to get the best bang for our buck.”

Secondly, it will give his senior-laden team a chance to intermingle and establish a chemistry that often cannot be taught or coached. This will be the first overnight trip of its kind for the girls lacrosse team and players from all level are looking forward to the experience.

“I think we have always been a pretty close-knit team among the varsity girls,” said Becca Sedivy, who is one of 11 seniors. “But we are also bringing the JV and we are pairing two varsity players with two junior varsity players for the rooms. It will help us get to know the junior varsity players so when they come up for sections, we will already be in communication. It will definitely help with team bonding.”

Added Schuler: “I think the team-bonding is going to help a lot. We will have a little buddy system with some of the underclassmen, so before each game we will give them a little gift or a note of encouragement. It will help unify the program.”

Reach sports reporter Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on Twitter.com @OPPJonW

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