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A year ago around this time, the Bozeman girls lacrosse team wrapped up its last practice before spring break.

The players were ramping up their preparation to defend their three consecutive state championships, and the plan was to gather again after a weeklong vacation and embark on another successful season.

“And we never got together again after that,” head coach Molly Pickall said. “It was during our spring break week that everything shut down.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the season, robbing Bozeman of the chance at a four-peat in the traditional sense. But now that the team is past its spring break this year and has games on the horizon this weekend, the goal of defending that string of championships has once again come into full view.

“You can feel amongst everyone how excited they are, and focused, to play,” Pickall said.

The same is true for Bozeman’s boys lacrosse team, which is also the three-time defending state champion.

“The players themselves are really jacked up to go play,” said first-year boys head coach Dan Springer.

The boys open the season at 10 a.m. Saturday against Helena East at Bozeman Sports Park. They host Helena West at 3:15 p.m. later in the day.

The girls open the season at 9 a.m. Saturday against Billings at Amend Park in Billings. They also play Helena at that same location at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.

Both squads have lofty expectations for the season, in part because while everybody did have to take a year off from the game, they have plenty of talent.

Pickall said her team’s longstanding success can be credited, at least partially, to strong midfield play starting with the draw.

That unit will be led by sophomores Maeve Musselman, Stephanie Leibinger and Eloise Trafton and junior Ella Roe.

“It’s really great as a coach to have that kind of depth in my draw takers,” Pickall said. “It means we can respond to the strengths of our opponents and adjust so that we can continue to dominate on the draw controls.”

Pickall said the offense will likely be further spurred by Madalyn Ziegler, Avery Walker and Hadley Lauermann. On the other side, Melaina Springer will lead the defense in the field while Emily Black takes over as goalie.

“Everyone on the roster is critical to our success,” Pickall said, while adding that a smaller roster than normal means more playing time and bigger roles for all players.

Dan Springer, after a few years of coaching the second varsity boys team, now leads the only varsity team — a new development this year as the Montana High School Lacrosse League shuffled around its team designations. The top teams for both the boys and girls will be referred to as Division I. The girls have one Division II team, while the boys now have two.

After taking over as the Division I coach for the boys, Springer knew he needed high-quality assistants with more of a playing background than what he has. So the team hired Casey Rose, a former team captain at Rutgers, and Casey Stevenson, a former Cornell player, to be the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively.

Springer has already seen their effect on the team.

“Both of these guys are exceptional teachers,” he said. “They can break down what they’re trying to describe.”

In the quest for a fourth consecutive title, Rose will look to get the most out of an offense highlighted by Jacob Johnson, Tanner Weppler and Kaden Kinney. And on defense, which Springer expects to be the team’s strength, Stevenson will rely heavily on Blake Meuli and Caleb Scala to shore up that unit.

“We are so strong across the board that it’s hard to focus on a single player because somebody else will pick it up,” Springer said. “We’ve got some amazing talent.”

Only by playing a full season will it be determined if that talent is enough, however. Springer said the other teams across the state are showing improvement each year.

“It’s nice we have a nice, strong program, but the parity is getting tighter,” he said. “Programs are definitely getting better, and that will be a big challenge for us.”

Still, the expectation of another state championship remains intact for both the Bozeman boys and girls. If either team were to accomplish that feat, it would not be four in four years, but it would further solidify the notion that some of the state’s best lacrosse is found in Bozeman.

“We have another strong team,” Pickall said. “I have no reason to think we shouldn’t be able to earn it once again.”

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Parker Cotton can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.