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Experience should translate into success

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BEMIDJI -- Last week as part of the preseason workout schedule, Bemidji High School girls soccer coach Kelly Schoonver and the players spent a few days at a character challenge rope course on Potato Lake north of Park Rapids.

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The course is billed as a place where teams of patrons can be pitted against a series of obstacles. By meeting these challenges head-on, according to course officials, the participants will grow in confidence, teamwork and communication skills -- all qualities that will give a team an edge over an opponent.

"Every year I like to send the players on a team-building trip," Schoonover said. "I thought that the rope course would help us develop leadership, help in team building and in our goal setting. I thought it would be a good way for us to start the season and also provide a way for the girls to get to know each other and build unity among the varsity and the junior varsity players."

The Lumberjacks will also depend upon their many experienced veterans to help create that unity. The team returns 14 letterwinners including seniors Abby Lindseth, Jillian Ricci, Katelyn Westlund, Katie Gray, Paige Moen, Hailey Hinners and Casey Palmer.

Also back are juniors Maea Wall and Mackenzie Hietala, sophomores Anna Erikson, Rachel Gray and Rachel Bitter plus freshmen Rachael Holm and Lydia Bitter.

"We have some holes to fill on offense but we do have players there who have experience," Schoonover said. "And I have high expectations for them this year."

Among the forwards who should provide scoring punch are Rachel Bitter and Wall.

"Rachel and Maea give us a strong one-two combination," Schoonover said. "Rachel is only a sophomore but she has played on the varsity for a few years. Maea is so fast that she can all of a sudden work her way into a scoring position. And this year she is playing with more confidence.

"I think that offense should be a strength because we have many attackers with experience and girls who can finish the play and score in high-pressure situations," the coach added.

The Lumberjacks also boast experience on defense where Moen, Lindseth and Westlund, among others, prowl. And backing everyone is goalkeeper Casey Palmer.

Bemidji should be among the contenders in the Lakes to Prairie Conference but advancing deep into the section playoffs will be difficult.

While the boys program remains in Section 8A, the girls have been elevated to Section 8-2A by the Minnesota State High School League officials. Instead of facing the smaller schools in northern Minnesota in the postseason, the girls team must now overcome Brainerd, Buffalo, Elk River, Moorhead, Rogers, St. Cloud Tech and St. Michael-Albertville to make it to state.

"We are the smallest school in our section and it will be tough for us to compete against those larger 8-2A schools," Schoonover said. "Those schools usually have 80 girls out for soccer while we have about 30.

"Our path to state will be more challenging but never underestimate this team," the coach continued. "I think the sky is the limit this year. Teams underestimated us two years ago when we went to state. And they shouldn't underestimate us this year."

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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