The Section 8A playoffs begin today for the Bemidji boys and girls soccer teams and both will enjoy the home-field advantage for the first round. The boys open the day's action at the middle school field with a 2:30 p.m. game against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley while the girls host Hillcrest Lutheran Academy at 4:30 p.m.
BHS earned the top seed in the North Sub-Section while WHA was seeded eighth. If the Lumberjacks hold serve throughout the playoffs they will enjoy the home-field advantage through the section semifinals. The Section 8A title game will be played at St. Cloud State.
Today's other upper-bracket game sends No. 5 Detroit Lakes to No. 4 East Grand Forks. If the Lumberjacks win today they will host that winner on Saturday, most likely at 1 p.m.
Section officials have mixed the North and South teams into the brackets and play between the North and the South will begin in the semifinals.
The lower-division of Bemidji's bracket features teams from the South and also begins play today. Little Falls is the No. 2 seed from the South and will host No. 7 Sauk Rapids. St. Cloud Cathedral drew the third seed in the south and will entertain No. 6 Minnewaska.
If the tournament results follow the seedings the Lumberjacks will also be home 4 p.m. Tuesday for the semifinals against the bracket survivor from the South. The championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Cloud State.
"We are very excited to begin the playoffs," said BHS coach Rick Toward whose team defeated WHA 8-1 during the regular season. "The way the seedings fell into place we will have seen every team we will face all the way into the finals. During the regular season we defeated Walker, East Grand Forks and Detroit Lakes.
"If the seedings hold we would meet either Little Falls or St. Cloud Cathedral in the semifinals and we played against both of them," Toward continued. "We lost to both but if we meet again we know what to expect and what adjustments we would need to make. And I think that is a big advantage."
A year ago the Lumberjacks advanced to the section championship game where they lost 3-0 to St. Cloud Cathedral. Bemidji did not play its best that day, perhaps because Cathedral was favored and had the reputation of being a winner.
"At this stage of the season confidence can be so important," Toward said. "Last year against Cathedral I don't think we had the confidence to advance. But this year we're not afraid to compete against anybody and we're not afraid to put everything on the line.
"You have to go into the playoff games with the attitude that you are going to give it your all," the coach continued. "We're at that stage. Right now the players want to compete. They don't want to spend any more time practicing."
Today's projected lineup includes Carl Graefe in the net, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Bitter and David Wyllie sharing time as the central defenders, Ian Sweeney Smith and Zach Jones as the outside defenders, Nick Gorick and Isak Sommer as the central midfielders, Austin Kovach and Riley Brooks as the outside midfielders and Patrick Trummer and Kyle Fodness handling the strikers duties.
The same scenario exists in the girls tournament as games in the first two rounds will be against teams in the same sub-section but the North will meet the South in the semifinals.
Bemidji begins its action today against Hillcrest and if the Jacks prevail they will play again on Saturday against today's winner between No. 2 Alexandria and No. 7 Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.
If Bemidji and Alexandria both win the game will probably be at 7 p.m. Saturday in Alexandria. The home team has the option of deciding the start time and, because Alexandria's field has lights, it is likely that the game will have the evening start.
If WHA upsets the Cardinals, however, and Bemidji wins the Lumberjacks would be the host team.
The semifinals are scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the home of the higher seed. The Section 8A title game will be 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Cloud State.
Earlier this fall BHS throttled Hillcrest 9-1 and the Jacks are confident that they can do well again.
"Our attack is a strength and we were able to attack last time against Hillcrest," Bemidji coach Kelly Schoonover said. "Because of our attack we were able to involve our midfielders and generate many shots."
The midfielders in today's lineup will include Jillian Ricci, Caitlin Blotske and Emily Boyer. Defensively the Jacks will use Sierra Anderson, Kelsey Merck, Kiah Hartung and Paige Moen while Josie Spry, Erin Booth and Stina Haave will be the forwards. Casey Palmer will handle the goaltending duties.
"To be successful in the section games you have to work on the things you can control and for us one of those things is the transition between offense to defense and defense to offense," Schoonover said. "We can control that transition with smart passing and communication. Those are the ingredients we need to make us stronger in the section tournament."