Jacks enter season with high expectations
BEMIDJI -- During the 2011 season the Bemidji High School volleyball team might have caught its Section 8-3A peers off guard. The Lumberjacks owned 20-8 record heading into the section tournament and were given the No. 3 seed in the North Sub-Section.
Once the postseason began, however, BHS caught fire and when the smoke cleared the Jacks had swept the Section 8-3A field and were on their way to the school's first trip to the state volleyball tournament.
Along the way Bemidji defeated Alexandria, the No. 5 seed from the North, 3-0. The Lumberjacks also outgunned Moorhead, the No. 2 seed from the North, 3-2 and dominated the South's top seed, Monticello, 3-0.
In the title match BHS battered Fergus Falls, the North's No. 1 ranked team, 25-20, 25-21 25-18.
Last fall the Lumberjacks had to prove themselves again as they tied Fergus Falls for the top seed in the North but were delegated to second after a coin flip.
Once again, however, BHS demonstrated on the court that it was the best team in the section. After three section tournament victories, including a five-set thriller at Monticello and a 3-0 pasting of Fergus Falls, the Jacks successfully defended their crown and advanced to the state meet for the second straight season. Last fall Bemidji also posted the program's initial win at the state meet, when it defeated Owatonna in the consolation semifinals.
Despite winning the section title for two consecutive years, however, this year's team was ranked behind Monticello, Alexandria and Moorhead in the Section 8-3A preseason poll by Sports USA Breakdown Volleyball.
And that ranking is fine with the Lumberjacks coaches.
"We're going to be underdogs again," said Jacks head coach Teresa Colligan. "Monticello will be very tough and probably should be favored but the one thing Monticello doesn't have is the experience of getting to state."
Assistant coach Netti Homer is more than willing to have Monticello carry the burden of being considered the top seed. She also knows that preseason polls mean nothing.
"I do believe that this team will challenge once again for the right to go to state but I don't think we have a target on our back despite being the two-time section champions," Homer said. "I think some teams will overlook us because of the people we graduated."
Those graduates include last year's starting hitters Jess Yost, Allie Heifort and Blake Bardwell. Also gone is front-line hitter Timi Severson who played as a junior last fall but moved back to her home town in Montana during the summer.
"Last year, because of our height, I think we scored points just by walking in the gym," Colligan said. "But this year we won't have that intimidation factor working for us.
"But what we do have is a team of very athletic girls, great senior leaders and a group of sophomore and junior athletes who played all summer in 16-U volleyball and won just about all of their tournaments."
Headlining the roster are seniors Myria Colley, Hanna Olson, Claire Laakso, Cheyenne Woods and Talia Lucken.
Olson was among the defensive leaders the past two years and also saw some action as a libero. Colley was a starter as an outside hitter last year and is expected to resume that role this fall. Laakso spent most of last year as a middle hitter on the junior varsity but she also saw some action with the varsity.
Lucken had a similar role as a defensive specialist while Woods missed her junior year because of a torn knee ligament.
The junior cast includes setters Alexa Greendahl and Maura Chadwick, right side hitter Kelsey Olson and defensive specialists Macey Lawrence and Karlie Lief.
Greendahl returns for her second season as Bemidji's starting setter.
Among the sophomores who could see varsity action are Emily Falldorf (middle hitter), Brylee Colligan (outside hitter), Katie Buckanaga (setter) and Lauren Rickers (middle and right-side hitter). All of the sophomores played on the junior varsity last fall.
"We lost some height and some offense but this year we have many young and eager girls who are really pushing for playing time," Colligan said. "Our weakness may be our lack of varsity experience. We have only a couple of girls who have regularly played at the varsity level but we have exposed the players to high-quality volleyball through our summer programs."
The experience gained through the summer and through two consecutive trips to the state meet is invaluable and Homer believes the players will not begin the year satisfied.
"Once you play at the state meet you want to work harder to get back," Homer said. "These kids have worked very hard in the offseason. These kids are not coming into camp believing that they can't make it back to state.
"I do know that this is a good group of kids," Homer continued. "Few jobs are set. There is competition for the positions and that makes everybody work harder to keep their spots or to earn one. I think we're in for a fun ride this fall."