It was difficult for the Bemidji girls volleyball players to hold back their tears after seeing their season come to a close in the consolation semifinals of the Class 3A State High School volleyball tournament Friday.
The Lumberjacks played much better than they did during Thursday's quarterfinals, but they still fell short, losing 26-24, 25-17, 25-18 to Cretin-Derham Hall at the Xcel Energy Center.
In Thursday's round, Bemidji needed two games to lose its nervous tension. On Friday, Bemidji had to make another adjustment.
Blake Bardwell, who is among the team's top blockers and offensive weapons at the net, did not dress because she became ill Thursday night.
Because of her absence, the Lumberjacks coaches were forced to shuffle the lineup to try and fill the gap.
"When you play a lineup all year and then have to try something different it can drain your confidence," said BHS coach Teresa Colligan.
"The girls we put in to replace Blake did their best. But when you play against a team as solid as Cretin, you want your best lineup out there."
Bemidji has not been a team that allowed adversity to get in the way of success, and Friday the Jacks came out ready to give the Raiders all they could handle.
In the opening game, Cretin-Derham Hall took a 7-3 lead and was able to maintain a slight cushion most of the way. Bemidji, however, eventually drew even at 19-19 when Jess Yost rose above the net to stuff a Raider spike.
The teams traded points through a 24-24 deadlock, but the Raiders finally posted the key victory courtesy of Chloe Wieber's spike and a missed Bemidji kill attempt.
"I don't think we were meshing as a team, because without Blake, we needed to use a new rotation," Yost said. "But we gave it everything we had and almost pulled out that first game."
The Lumberjacks stayed with the Raiders through the middle stages of the second game, but Cretin-Derham Hall eventually took advantage of some Lumberjack mistakes and the power attacks of Bri Meutzel and Libby Hilger to open a 13-7 advantage.
Another six-point run late in the game set the stage for the 25-17 victory.
The final set followed a similar format as the teams were tied 7-7, but the Raiders fashioned a 9-4 run to assume control.
"We did some good things Friday," Colligan said. "It's tough to come here and leave feeling that we didn't play our best, but we also should be proud that we made it to the state tournament."
"Some of the girls are going to feel that they didn't accomplish their goal because we didn't win a game in the two state matches. We wanted to do more but after the match I told them that our season as a whole has been wonderful."
The Lumberjacks ended the year 24-10 and will always be referred to as the first volleyball squad to reach the state meet.
"We set the stage for Bemidji volleyball," Yost said through her tears. "I'm proud of the team and of what we accomplished."
"The entire experience of being here, spending time with my teammates and spending time in this building is something I will always remember," Yost said. "We came here and competed against the best teams in the state, and now we know what the top teams look like. And we can always say that Bemidji was one of the top eight teams in Minnesota."
"We set the stage for volleyball in Bemidji," Colligan added. "We made it to state for the first time and now this is something we would like to see become an annual event."
NOTE: A welcome home celebration for Bemidji's volleyball team will be held 3 p.m. Sunday at the Bemidji High School auxiliary gym. All fans are invited to help the team celebrate its trip to the state tournament.