Participating in a state tournament is the goal of every high school athlete but the opportunity to perform on Minnesota's biggest stage is rare. When it does happen the memories of being in the state spotlight and the extra effort required to accomplish the feat are to be cherished.
In 2011 Bemidji High School athletes created more than their share of state tournament memories as six Lumberjack teams captured section titles and each season the school was represented by individuals at state events.
The state appearances began last winter when the BHS wrestlers shocked everyone but themselves by winning the Section 8-3A crown.
In the spring the Lumberjacks baseball team rose from a seventh seed to capture the section title and this fall the girls swimmers, volleyball, girls soccer and football teams joined the party.
"Having this type of state success is phenomenal," said BHS activities director Troy Hendricks. "And we also were close to making state with our boys basketball and boys hockey programs.
"In my tenure as activities director I've never seen this type of success before," Hendricks continued. "If you go back to some of our gloom years you may find an entire decade without us sending six teams to state. This current run is a testament to the kids working harder and the great coaches we have on staff."
The wrestling team had a flair for the dramatic and that quality surfaced at the Section 8-3A meet.
The Lumberjacks opened the tournament with a 39-28 victory over St. Cloud Tech and then nipped Moorhead 33-29 in the semifinals.
Facing top-ranked Willmar in the title match BHS trailed 34-25 with two matches to go. Nick Maggert kept Bemidji in the hunt with an 8-3 decision at 215 pounds and Alex Johnson capped the rally with a pin in the heavyweight match.
The comeback enabled the Lumberjacks to tie Willmar 34-34 but, because they won eight of the 14 individual matches, the Jacks were crowned the section champions.
"This is unbelievable," BHS coach Rance Bahr said after the match. "Everybody stepped it up. Last year (in 2010) we finished eighth out of 10 teams in the section and no one expected us to pull this off. The fact that we went from worst to first in one year is pretty exhilarating."
Bemidji's inexperience at the state level surfaced a few days later as the Lumberjacks were defeated by Prior Lake and by White Bear Lake at the state meet.
Individually Colton Doty and Jack Crosby also advanced to state but neither was able to win a match.
Bemidji's Nordic ski team and swimming and diving squad also advanced athletes to the state competition.
Bailey Drewes finished 80th among the girls skiers while Adam Holter also was 80th and Tony Sagedahl 83rd.
The Lumberjacks sent four athletes to the state boys swimming meet, led by Dylan Hoven who placed second in the 50 free and third in the 100 free. Adam Falk was 13th in the 200 free and Nick Nyberg 16th in the event. Nyberg also was 12th in the 500 free while the 200 free relay team of Hoven, Falk, Nyberg and Nick Gubbels was ninth and the 400 free relay team of the same swimmers was 13th.
The boys hockey team was a whisker away from advancing to the state tournament as the Lumberjacks were edged 2-0 by Moorhead in the Section 8-2A final. BHS finished the winter 23-3-2 and Jeremiah Graves, Steven Heller, Max Hazelton and Tyler Tatro were named to the All State honorable mention team.
Bemidji's boys basketball team also had a great season but it came to an end in the section semifinals when the Jacks lost 68-65 to Detroit Lakes. On way to a 21-6 record the team's leading scorer, Carey Woods, lit the scoreboard for a school-record 52 points Feb. 8 at Grand Forks Central.
That effort surpassed Jim Jensen's 50-point effort against Woodbury during the 1978 state tournament.
Many area and youth teams also found success last winter including the Cass Lake-Bena and Bagley boys basketball squads.
CL-B lost 59-45 to Fosston in the East Sub-Section 8A title game and ended its campaign 22-7. Bagley advanced to the Section 8-2A championship game where it fell 69-50 to Thief River Falls.
"Finishing 27-3 is not a bad year," said Bagley coach Chuck Anderson. "The kids were pretty devastated after the game but in the morning I'm sure they will feel better about this great year."
The Blackduck boys team won the Class A state academic championship. The award is based on the academic performance of all varsity players.
"Blackduck students not only excel in the playing arena and in the arts but also in the classroom," said Blackduck activities director Theresa Rabe. "They are dedicated to the school and the community of Blackduck."
Bemidji also found reason to celebrate curling last winter. The Pete Fenson rink, which included Bemidji curlers Ryan Brunt and Fenson, won the national championship with an 11-0 record in Fargo and went on to finish 10th at the World Championships in Regina, Sask.
Pete Fenson was named the 2011 USA Curling Men's Athlete of the Year.
His father, Bob, was inducted into the Curling Hall of Fame last February.
In the junior curling ranks Josh Bahr of Bemidji was a member of the Aaron Wald rink which won the national tournament and posted a 4-5 record at the World Championships in Perth, Scotland.
An improbable run and four memorable runs highlighted the Bemidji High School spring sports scene.
The baseball team finished the regular season only 12-8 and, based on its No. 7 seed in the section tournament, seemed destined for a short post-season.
The players, however, felt that the team had the potential to extend its season well into June and in the section playoffs they showed that they were right.
In the section opener BHS bounced St. Cloud Tech 7-1 and in the second round the Jacks upset No. 2 seed Big Lake 8-7. The winning streak continued with a 10-6 victory over Brainerd in the opening game of the section's Final Four.
Bemidji then lost 11-6 to Alexandria in the winner's bracket and needed to come through the loser's bracket to remain alive. The Lumberjacks then eliminated Sauk Rapids 11-6 and hammered Alexandria 14-1 to gain a one-game showdown with Alexandria for the section crown.
BHS capped its section run with a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals and the reward was the section championship and the school's record-tying 19th appearance at the state tournament.
"Tying for the all-time lead in state tournament appearances is neat," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson. "And we were happy to be the first Bemidji team in 20 years to get there."
Bemidji's stay at the state meet was brief as the Jacks lost 13-0 to Burnsville and 7-6 to Eden Prairie.
Bemidji athletes did earn a state championship last spring as the boys 4x800 relay team of Jake Urban, Isak Sommer, John Buckanaga and Alex Schoneberger ran what coach Steve Sneide termed "the perfect race" and captured the state title with a time of 7:49.15.
"We did exactly what we were supposed to do and executed our plan very well," said distance running coach Ryan Aylesworth.
"The boys went out, seized their opportunity and earned the win," Sneide added.
"We were here to do a job and we went out and did it," Buckanaga said.
Schoneberger also competed in the 800 and finished seventh. Cole Bardwell placed 16th in the event and Jenna Truedson was 10th in the girls 800.
The Lumberjacks also returned from state with a team Academic All State award and Sommer and Urban were All Academic as individuals.
Bemidji also was represented at the state boys and girls golf tournaments as Trey Dale finished 23rd with rounds of 77-75-152 and Meg Phelps placed 177th at 90-87-177.
Bailey Drewes and Ryan Rude were named the BHS Athletes of the Year and perhaps one day they will join the elite group of former Lumberjacks who are members of the Hall of Fame. The 2011 inductees included Shannon Whelan, Jerry Lee, John Buckanaga, Andy Kannenberg and David Lawrence.
Another area elite athlete, Analisa Huschle of Bagley-Fosston, was honored as Minnesota's girls track and field Athlete of the Year.
Huschle capped her prep career last spring with four individual titles at the state Class A track and field meet, winning the 100, 200, long jump and triple jump, the latter with a state-record leap of 39-4.5.
Bagley also placed eighth in the 4x200 relay and seventh in the 4x100 relay behind Emily Julin, Courtney Cosca, Alyssa Schmidt and Lynsey Bardwell. The combined efforts enabled Bagley-Fosston to tie St. Peter for the Class A state championship.
Bemidji's baseball success from the spring extended into the summer as the Legion team also advanced to the state tournament.
Featuring many of the players who competed at the high school state meet, the Legion compiled an impressive 26-4 overall record with two of the losses coming to Lino Lakes and New Ulm at the state tournament.
The Northern Heat 11-year-old team also won a state title, claiming the Cal Ripken championship by playing seven games, including five elimination games, in Bemidji.
The team ran out of gas at the national tournament, however, posting an 0-4 record.
The VFW team defeated Morris in the state opener in Bemidji but then lost 2-0 to Winona and 4-1 to St. Paul Ranview.
A pair of brothers, Ryan and Shawn Klein from the Blackduck area, outlasted the field, the heat and a calm Lake Bemidji to win the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic with 17.66 pounds and earn $12,500.
The golf scene was highlighted by Johnny Larson of Clements, Minn. who defeated Matt Skarperud of Omaha 2-up to claim the Birchmont Men's championship.
Rachel Roller of Grand Forks captured her third consecutive Women's title while Joe Burgess of Woodbury won the Executive crown, Rob Jacobson of Bemidji was the Senior winner, Jack Sieberlich of Rush City took the Super Seniors title and Trey Dale won the Juniors.
Bruce Hegland of Apple Valley won the Vandersluis by shooting 211. Tom Jenkins of Plymouth was second at 212 and Ray Sauer of St. Cloud took the Senior title at 223.
Bemidji native Bill Israelson, who now is the pro at Vintage Golf Club in Staples, shot a final round 69 for a two-day total of 3-under par 139 to win his first Minnesota Senior Open at Brackett's Crossing Country Club.
The tournament attracted 94 golfers.
During the fall Bemidji High School offers eight varsity sports and the goal each year is to be competitive in all of them. This fall, however, the Lumberjacks took that competitive spirit to the next step as half of the teams finished the year as section champions.
The string began with the girls soccer team defeating East Grand Forks 3-2 in the Section 8A final to gain the state meet. The post-season run included a 3-0 win over Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, a 1-0 victory over Alexandria, a 4-3 overtime thriller over Sartell and the victory over EGF.
"This was the first time the girls soccer team made it to state and if any team was going to make history I'm not surprised it was this team," said BHS coach Kelly Schoonover. "This is a team of leaders. The girls play hard but they have fun. There is something special about this group of girls and that made the team something special."
Bemidji dropped its state opener 4-0 to Blake.
The volleyball team took the cue of the soccer girls and also hit full stride during the section playdowns. After blitzing Alexandria 3-0 in the opening round the Jacks upset Moorhead 26-24, 23-25, 18-25, 25-10, 15-8, blanked Monticello, the top seed from the South, 3-0 and hammered Fergus Falls, the top seed from the North, 3-0.
BHS ran out of gas at the state meet and lost 3-0 decisions to Lakeville and Cretin-Derham Hall.
The girls swimmers and divers also were crowned section champions and sent five individuals and two relays to the state meet.
Steph Frey earned All State honors at state by placing third in the 200 IM and third in the 100 free. Jana Hedstrom also returned as an All State athlete as she was sixth in diving.
Also at the state meet Lexie Hendricks was 16th in the 500 free and the 200 and 400 free relay teams of Frey, Danielle Hoven, Kenzie Timms and Erin Arndt were 14th and 15th.
Arndt also represented the Jacks in the 100 fly and Kylei Grosfield in diving.
This fall's state tournament team success was climaxed by the memorable run of the football team. After an unbeaten regular season the Lumberjacks dominated Grand Rapids and Hermantown in the Section 7-4A playoffs and advanced to the state meet.
Bemidji began its state action with a 24-6 victory over Spring Lake Park in St. Cloud and then battered Minnesota's prep Athlete of the Year Phillip Nelson of Mankato West during a 45-26 semifinal victory at the Metrodome.
The magical season came to an end in the Prep Bowl when Bemidji lost 17-10 to Rocori in the state championship game.
Brandon Larson, Cody Rutledge and Carey Woods were named to the Associated Press second team and James Bofferding and Mitchell Hendricks were named to the honorable mention squad.
Sam Carlson and Jenna Truedson also represented BHS at state competition as Truedson placed third at the cross country meet and Carlson was 44th.
The most disappointing story of the fall was the news that former Lumberjack Kayla Hirt tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while practicing with the University of Minnesota women's basketball team.
Only the day before Hirt sustained the injury the Gopher freshman was told that she had made the starting five.
Hirt, who missed her entire senior season at Bemidji because of a tear in her other ACL, will be redshirted this winter.