The Bemidji High girls swim team heads to the north border tonight to open a two-day stand at the Section 8A meet at Warroad.
For the first time, Bemidji has dropped out of the AA ranks and no longer will have to battle state powers such as Maple Grove, Elk River and Brainerd at the section meet.
They made full use of the switch earlier this fall to win the True Team section title and compete at the state.
Bemidji turned back Park Rapids by 79 points even competing without one of its top scorers, Stephanie Frey who was injured.
However, that came at a meet in which Fergus Falls did not take part.
The Otters have been the perennial power in 8A since dropping to that level a number of years ago.
Bemidji will need a top effort but appears to be peeking and plans to make a good run at the title.,
If nothing else, it should be able to qualify a number of its top performers and relays for the state.
Last year it sent none with its school record setting 200 free relay team finishing no better than fifth.
This year, both free relays should be top contenders along with Frey Selina Gilbertson and Katie Verchota in the individual events plus its strong diving corps.
"Fergus Falls is definitely the favorite," said Coach Woody Leindecker. "But I feel we have the depth to push them to the limit."
"Much will depend on how well our third and fourth entrants move up to garner points. And much will also depend on how teams such as Detroit Lakes, Warroad and Park Rapids cut into the Fergus total.
Bemidji will still fight weaknesses in the 50, fly and backstroke.
But Gilbertson is top seeded in the 200 free where Bemidji's four swimmers are all rated in the top 16.
Frey is second seeded in the IM but the only swimmer in the top10. Taylor Heinle is ninth in the 50 where only two made the top16.
Jamie Vanasse is tenth in the fly with Maris Jahner 12 the only other top 16 entrant.
But Gilbertson and Dani Luby go 4-8 in the 100 free and Katie Verchota and Lexi Hendricks 2-11 in the 500 while Gilbertson, Jahner, Verchota and Frey are the top rated 200 free relay.
Bemidji had no top ten entries in the backstroke with Frey, Papke-Larson and McKenzie Timms 4-7-12 in the breaststroke.
The 400 relay is second seeded to Fergus but by ten seconds.
The divers are unseeded, Bemidji will go with Jana Hedstrom, Heinle, Hailey Erickson and Brittany Maxwell, all capable of top performances. Of those that are rated, DL has the top three. Fergus divers are well back in the standings.