Bemidji girls making fifth trip to the big show
The Bemidji High School girls basketball team will be making its fifth trip to the state tournament today when it opens play at Williams Arena against Sartell-St. Stephen at 4 p.m.
Now in its 37th season of play, the girls team will be at the state for the third time this decade after going once in the 1980s and once in the '90s.
Their overall record at the state is 3-7.
Girls basketball began as a fall sport in 1973, taking advantage of gymnasium availability in the fall rather than competing with the boys sport for gym space in the winter.
After two seasons of what seemed to be a more equitable arrangement, however, girls basketball was shifted to become a winter sport in 1976 and has remained so since.
Nancy Schnickels was the first coach, guiding the team for two seasons to a 13-10 record.
Few, if any, of the players had any previous experience and the two years were more of a learning process with turnovers far more frequent than baskets.
One rules change to emerge from that era was the alternate possession rule which eliminated the continual string of jump balls occasioned by the loose play.
The Bemidji program changed drastically starting in1976 with the arrival of Jim Wahl.
Wahl had coached boys basketball at Mentor for several years and served as a football assistant here while taking over the girls basketball program.
He continued for the next 25 years, compiling a record of 386-173 and building Bemidji into an area contender.
It took 11 seasons, however, before he took his first team to the state in 1986, beating St. Cloud Tech in the section finals 67-62.
Bemidji bowed to St. Louis Park 58-46 in its opener, defeated Duluth Central 36-35 in consolation play before dropping the fifth-place game to Hill-Murray 52-34.
Despite some fine seasons, including a 24-1 finish in 1992, Bemidji did not return to the big event until 1994 when it again lost its opener 45-30 to Bloomington Jefferson, beat North Branch 54-36 and again lost the consolation final 67-44 to Mounds View.
Bemidji had gained the state with a 46-44 win over Rocori in the section final.
Wahl's final trip to the state came in his last year at the helm in 2000.
By this time the tournament format had been altered, eliminating the consolation bracket to accommodate the additional number of classes.
Bemidji played Blaine in its only start and fell 45-37.
It had reached the state with a 47-44 win over Moorhead in the section final.
Wahl stepped down in 2001 with long-time assistant Bob Luoma taking the reins, a second generation BHS basketball coach.
He took his first team back to the state again after a section final win over Moorhead 50-48.Bemidji took its opener 60-53 over Forest Lake before bowing to Lakeville 60-27 and St. Paul Central 62-57 in the third-place game.
Luoma stepped down after only three years with a 40-36 record to be succeeded by Tim Mayclin, who went 29-47 through a rebuilding cycle.
Rick Kehoe has guided the team the past four winters and takes a 76-30 mark to the state.
The team set a single-season record with 25 victories this winter.
It shifted from 8-4A to 7-3A this winter and downed Hibbing 76-54 in the title round.Its lone loss came to state ranked 4A power Eden Prairie 76-51 in December.
Among its victims were state qualifiers Sartell and Willmar and section finalists Brainerd and Alexandria.
The Lumberjack boys, like Austin, were a dominant team in the single-class system from the 1930s through the '60s and lead the state with 28 appearances.
They show two outright titles, one division championship and two runner-up finishes.
Since the division into the multiclass system in 1972, however, they have made the state only three times, the last in 1985 when they dropped both starts.
They made their first trip in 1915, the third year of the meet's existence.
It was 16 seasons before they returned in 1931, the first of four trips under Buck Robbins.
Among them was the first state title in 1936 with a 26-20 win over Wadena in the final.
Glen Barnum was at the helm for tourneys in 1941-44-45 and Mike Lagather in 1947-48-49, taking the 1948 crown by beating Hopkins 38-29 in the final.
Lagather was followed by Bun Fortier, who worked through a legendary 20-year period which found Bemidji making 14 trips to the state tournament.
Bemidji ended second to Brainerd 49-47 in 1854 and again to Duluth Central 51-50 in 1961.
The spell included the Ray Cronk era in the late 1950s and Jim Jensen era a decade later.
Jack Luoma held the reins in 1974 and 78, Bemidji taking the Class AA title in 1974 over Richfield 52-50 before bowing to Melrose and Mark Olberding in the playoff final.
Mel Johnson guided the 1985 team to state where it fell to Bloomington Jefferson and Willmar.
The two-class system quickly made way for four and despite several strong teams, the Jacks have never gained the section title again.
Bemidji girls at state
Bemidji 76, Hibbing 54