Standing on the field as his team was about to take part its first game at the Rising Stars Top 100 Showcase, Preston Meier did everything he could to soak-in the moment.
With his sophomore season at Owatonna High School having been completely wiped away roughly two months prior, the incoming junior hadn’t participated in a competitive lacrosse contest in more than a full calendar year, and the feeling right before the opening face-off conjured up a blend of conflicting emotions.
Most of all, it just felt odd.
“I was most likely going to be a starter (for the Huskies) this season and that was going to be a whole new role for me,” Meier said over the phone on Tuesday. “So when we weren’t able to play I was just that much more excited to start practicing again this summer. I remember right before my first game at the Top 100 Showcase I turned to someone next to me and said: ‘This this feels weird.’ But I was definitely excited to be playing in a game again.”
As strange as it he may have felt just prior to his first competition since May of 2019, Meier didn’t seem to have much trouble dialing-in once the whistle blew.
In three games competing alongside some of the best college prospects in the entire Midwest — and against elite competition from across the country — Meier scored five goals and handed out three assists, helping his team finish 3-0 on the first day of the massive even held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
The next day as a member of the Minnesota’s AA select squad, Meier emerged as one of his team’s go-to offensive weapons and netted nine goals while registering four assists in four games. His team finished 3-1 during the round-robin event, giving Meier’s two teams a combined seven wins against just one loss throughout the entire weekend.
Not bad for a kid from a “country town.”
“It’s pretty funny, the (Minnesota AA) coaches give me a little crap being from a ‘country town’ in Owatonna,” Meier said with a chuckle. “Most of the guys are from the Twin Cities area, so I feel proud coming from the Big Nine. Not many kids from the conference even had the opportunity to tryout, and making the team felt really good. The competition is really, really tough and high-paced, even at practice. It’s was a challenge and I think it has made me a much better player.”
Meier has participated in various off-season lacrosse camps and leagues for a number of years and has blossomed into one of the most promising college prospects in the Big Nine Conference for the Class of 2022.
After earning a spot in the regular OHS varsity rotation as a freshman — which feels like an eternity ago at this point — Meier played for a select regional squad based out of Rochester last summer and was ultimately invited to join the statewide “True Minnesota” team this summer.
“I think last summer in when I really hit my stride as a player,” Meier said. “That’s when I started raising my game and tried out for the (True Minnesota) team and made it. That was probably the best lacrosse I’ve ever played.
“Each day they would email you to let you know if you made it to the next round of cuts and I felt a little pressure, but I just tried to stick to my game. There was a lot of talent and I was excited when I made it to the final day.”
Having elevated to a new plateau, Meier was naturally excited to take the mantle as one of Owatonna’s top offensive threats this season, but like all student-athletes in the state of Minnesota, was forced to confront a reality that grew dimmer and dimmer each passing day as the government attempted to manage the increased outbreak of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Meier — who is also one of the top cross country runners in southern Minnesota — did his best to stay upbeat about the entire situation, but started to accept that sophomore season might be a lost cause after in-person classes were officially cancelled in early-April.
“I tried to stay positive and hopeful right away that we might get a short season, or maybe even play in the summer,” Meier said. “It didn’t set in until they announced that we weren’t going back to school. It was definitely disappointing.”
From an individual standpoint, Meier may have missed out on showcasing his burgeoning skill set and shouldering a larger offensive load with the Huskies this spring, but he quickly shifted his focus to something he could control, and that was preparing for the possibility of competing for his club team starting in late-June. As the spring turned into summer and the governor began easing restrictions on outdoor activities and large gatherings, Meier eventually joined his teammates for online training before the program started phasing-in what Meier called “normal practices.”
“It started with groups of ten and went from there,” he said. “We worked our way up to normal practices and that was about two weeks before the tournament in Indiana.”
Meier was one of just a handful of Minnesota players in the Class of 2022 to be selected for the Top 100 Showcase the day before the “main tournament” kicked off in Indiana, and the exposure he was given during the intense afternoon of competition was priceless as representatives from more than 40 college programs where in attendance.
Mainly, Meier was just happy to be on the field.
“It was really fun being able to compete after the spring was cancelled,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
Meier said he’s already engaged in preliminary talks with a few college coaches, but hasn’t been offered an official spot on a team just yet as he continues to weigh his options at the next level.
“Right now I’m looking into either running cross country or playing lacrosse,” he said “I haven’t picked one as of right now, but I’ve been trying to reach out to college coaches via email and talking to them at showcases and the biggest thing is just playing as much as I can and getting to spots where I can get the best exposure.”
Between his exploits on the lacrosse field and his accomplishments as a runner, there’s no doubt Meier will have options when it comes to a college athletics career — whenever that day comes.
He’s proven more than capable of rising to a new level against some of the best young players in the Midwest and will only continue to add to his already versatile abilities and perfect the nuances of a sport he’s been playing since the fourth grade.
“I think my lacrosse IQ has developed the most over the last year,” Meier said. “Just knowing when is a good time to dodge and take the ball in and when to pass — all those little things have definitely improved a lot. I attribute that to just practicing with my team and training with the the staff. It’s set me up to be successful during games.”
NOTE: Preston’s older brother, Braeden, was recently drafted by the Lakeville Lumberjacks of the Interstate Boys Lacrosse Association. Braeden is a 2018 Owatonna High School graduate and currently a member of the men’s lacrosse team at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH.