BOYS SOCCER: Section loss doesn't take away from great season
BEMIDJI – When the Bemidji boys soccer team headed to St. Cloud State Thursday for the Section 8A championship game against St. Cloud Cathedral, the Lumberjacks were facing an uphill battle.
Although technically a neutral field, the Crusaders were playing in their home town while the Lumberjacks spent 2.5 hours in a bus.
When Bemidji arrived the coaches and players discovered that the three locker room facilities at the stadium were spoken for and that they were assigned a room two floors up and away from the field.
When the girls championship game went into a shootout and the boys game was delayed another hour, the BHS players couldn’t pop into a locker facility to stay warm and help aid the mental preparations that would be required to take the field at an instant’s notice. Instead, they huddled in the corner of the field near the action and tried to stay ready.
“Obviously, geography plays against us when it comes to section games,” said BHS coach Rick Toward.
Despite the disadvantages, the Lumberjacks were ready for action when the game finally did begin. Isak Sommer scored three minutes into the game but BHS couldn’t maintain that pace and eventually fell 3-1.
Thursday’s game marked the fourth consecutive time that St. Cloud Cathedral ended Bemidji’s season. The end has come twice in the section semifinals and twice in the Section 8A title game.
“Last night Cathedral was the better team,” Toward said Friday morning. “Despite the history between the teams and the disadvantages we faced before the game, the boys came out ready to play. But Cathedral is a very good team and we didn’t adjust to what they were doing as well as we needed to.”
The Crusaders scored late in the first half to tie the game at 1-1 and they found the net again early in the second stanza. St. Cloud Cathedral iced the win with another goal late in the contest.
“After the game we were walking out of the stadium with the second place trophy when we met Josh Hodgson, who played for us about six years ago,” Toward said. “The guys were pretty down and Josh told them that he also had played his last Bemidji game on that field.
“But the difference was that his last game came in the first round of the playoffs,” Toward continued. “And he said he would have loved to have been on a section runnerup team.”
This year’s team finished 13-3-2, won the conference title, earned the No.1 seed in the North Sub-Section, was unbeaten at home and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the state.
“There weren’t many things I could say to the boys after Thursday’s game to lift their chins but we did go over all that they accomplished this year,” the coach said. “And they accomplished a tremendous amount. And what I especially am proud of is how they kept battling all night. We were down 3-1 with eight minutes to play but they continued to play with emotion, with heart and with hustle. They were still pushing. They were still trying to get that next goal.
“And those efforts were noticed,” Toward continued. “After the game I received many text messages from parents, from fans and from alumni congratulating them for how hard they worked in that game.”
Bemidji’s senior class is extensive as 15 Lumberjacks have played their final game. That list includes goalkeeper Connor McNallan, defenders Isaac Erickson, Jack Schmigdall, Justin Jernigan, Devin Barrett and Wyatt Miller, attackers Asa Erickson, Seth Wall, Neiko Gale, Riley Brooks, Alex Amillategui and Felix Hoefer plus midfielders Isak Sommer, Ryan Greendahl and Austin Kovach.
“Obviously, it would have been fun to be playing next week but we had a great year,” Toward said. “A few years ago we were barely .500 but now look where the program is. We were 13-3-2 and played in the section championship game.
“I think this team has set the standard for future teams to follow.”