Bemidji High School seniors Meghan Wannebo and Liz Hirt have thoroughly enjoyed this year's volleyball season and, despite the 14-14 record heading into tonight's Section 8-3A opener, they will look back at 2010 as a very successful year.
"It has been a lot of fun," Hirt said. "Our team chemistry has been great this year and we all get along so well. It's been a very rewarding season."
Wannebo is a defensive specialist and Bemidji's libero. She shares Hirt's outlook and believes that the best may be just around the corner.
"In past years we always had a winning season and we may have had it in our heads that we would automatically go to state," Wannebo said. "But we never did. This year we feel there isn't one team in the section that is that much better than everybody else. This year I think the team that wants it the most will win the section.
"And we want it," Wannebo said.
The Lumberjacks take the first step toward the state tournament 7 p.m. today when they head to Alexandria. BHS is 14-14 while the Cardinals own a 15-11 mark. In their lone meeting the Jacks dropped a 10-25, 25-22, 15-11 decision at Alexandria two weeks ago.
"It's been a roller coaster season," Hirt said. "Everything we've done so far has been a learning experience and we have grown as a team with each win and each loss. Going into the tournament we will be an underdog to every team we play and we won't have any pressure. Whatever we get we'll have to earn and that's okay with us."
The eight remaining section teams all sport similar records. Joining BHS and Alexandria in the upper bracket are St. Michael-Albertville (16-11) and Sauk Rapids (9-15). Those teams also meet tonight at St. Michael and if Bemidji prevails it will face that winner on Tuesday.
In the lower bracket Moorhead (15-11) hosts Brainerd (14-16) while Monticello (16-8) entertains St. Cloud Tech (13-8).
"I don't think the records mean anything in the section tournament because everybody has about the same record," Wannebo said. "We're excited to play."
During the offseason the Lumberjacks were expected to be among the section's dominant teams because of their experience. Anchoring that experience was senior Kayla Hirt.
But things don't always work out as planned. Kayla Hirt injured her knee in late summer and was lost for the season. At that point a team has options and Bemidji chose to look at the situation from a positive standpoint.
"Without Kayla we didn't have our best player but actually the team became stronger," Wannebo said. "Everybody sucked it up and everybody did her part to help us improve. We all focused on what we had to do and because of that we developed into as good a team as we could be."
Hirt believes that the team has the talent to go to the state tournament.
"Each year we've accomplished something great," Hirt said. "Two years ago we defeated Moorhead for the first time in a long time. Last year we had the best record in the program's history. This year our goal is to get to state and tonight (Friday) we face the first challenge that we will have to overcome."
Bemidji will have one other goal in mind tonight when they hit the court in Alexandria.
"All year a big goal of ours has been to have fun," Wannebo said. "When we have fun on the floor we usually play well."
Section 8-3A Tournament
Sauk Rapids def. St. Cloud Apollo 23-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-16
Brainerd def. Sartell 26-24, 21-25, 19-25, 25-23, 15-8
St. Cloud Tech def. Big Lake 20-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-9
Today's 7 p.m. Matches
Match 1: Sauk Rapids (No. 5 South) at St. Michael-Albertville (No. 1 South)
Match 2: Bemidji (No. 3 North) at Alexandria (No. 2 North)
Match 3: Brainerd (No. 5 North) at Moorhead (No. 1 North)
Match 4: Tech (No. 3 South) at Monticello (No. 2 South)
8 p.m. at higher seed
Match 5: Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner
Match 6: Match 3 winner vs. Match 4 winner
Match 5 winner vs. Match 6 winner, 7 p.m. at neutral site