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Lumberjacks battle Fergus Falls for 8-3A championship

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sports Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Last season Blake Bardwell was a member of the junior varsity volleyball team. This year, however, Bardwell is a key component to a varsity front line that has intimidated opponents and has helped the Lumberjacks advance to Friday's Section 8-3A championship match.

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"I played with the (varsity) girls during the spring and summer Junior Olympics program and I have become much more comfortable playing with them," the junior middle hitter said.

"Playing on the varsity this year has been fun. I see my role as being a big part of setting up our defensive game through blocking. And I love it."

Bardwell, who led the Jacks with five blocks during Tuesday's 25-21, 25-14, 25-14 section semifinal victory at Monticello, will join her teammates in Detroit Lakes Friday for the Section 8-3A championship match against Fergus Falls.

BHS, which has won 10 of its last 11 outings, will take a 23-8 record into the section final while Fergus Falls is 23-5.

Joining Bardwell at the net are fellow juniors Jess Yost and Allie Heifort. All three possess the height needed to be an offensive and defensive threat and collectively they provide a 1-2-3 punch that is difficult for opponents to overcome.

"Blake's arms are so long that she can get her elbows over the net," Yost said. "And Allie has so much energy and good vibes that she keeps all of us pumped up for the entire match.

"My role is to be one of the leaders," Yost continued. "Last year it seemed that I was just thrown into being a leader after Kayla (Hirt) went down with her knee injury. But this year we have found our leaders and I'm just one of them."

Fans who have followed the Lumberjacks this fall couldn't help but observe the fun the girls seem to be having. According to Yost, having fun has been an instrumental element in this year's success.

"When we go on the court we joke around because when we have fun we play our best volleyball," Yost said.

Heifort plays with an enthusiasm that is contagious and, in addition to being a key weapon, she is the main cheerleader.

"As a middle and outside hitter my job is to kill and block but I also want to pump up the team and make sure everybody is having fun," Heifort said. "When we hit the court we want to play our best but we also want to have fun because the two go hand-in-hand.

"I love volleyball and I love this team," Heifort continued. "I trust everybody out there to do their best and they trust me to do mine."

Since the St. Michael-Albertville tournament in early October Bemidji has been playing its best. The Lumberjacks went 3-2 at the prestigious event and have posted a 9-1 record since.

"During that tournament we changed our rotation," Bardwell said. "That change has helped us make better use of our height."

"I think the St. Michael tournament was a turning point for us," Yost said. "Since we put in that new rotation we have just gotten better and better."

The late-season run has featured two victories in three matches against Wadena-Deer Creek, 3-1 victories over Dilworth-Glyndon Felton and Lake of the Woods, a gutty 3-2 come-from-behind triumph at Moorhead in the section quarterfinals and Tuesday's impressive 3-0 demolition at Monticello.

"We know what our game is and we're getting better each match," Yost said. "Our 23 wins have set a school record and we are the first volleyball team ever to reach the section finals.

"I don't think other teams expected us to go this deep into the playoffs but we did."

Bardwell, Yost and Heifort all are eager to continue their season Friday and, hopefully, beyond.

"I'm very excited," Bardwell said. "This will be my first section final and I can't wait."

"I'm a little nervous but once we start playing I'll be fine," Yost said. "If we play our game we should be in good shape."

Heifort said that Bemidji is playing as well now as it has all season and if the Jacks continue that progression Friday a state tournament berth is well within reach.

"All year we have capitalized on our strengths and worked to improve our weaknesses," she said. "Every team wants to peak during the tournaments and we are.

"On Friday we hope to come out and play our game like we did against Monticello," Heifort continued. "Fergus Falls is a good team and we'll have to play our best. We can't take any point for granted. And I know we won't."

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

Last season Blake Bardwell was a member of the junior varsity volleyball team. This year, however, Bardwell is a key component to a varsity front line that has intimidated opponents and has helped the Lumberjacks advance to Friday's Section 8-3A championship match.

"I played with the (varsity) girls during the spring and summer Junior Olympics program and I have become much more comfortable playing with them," the junior middle hitter said.

"Playing on the varsity this year has been fun. I see my role as being a big part of setting up our defensive game through blocking. And I love it."

Bardwell, who led the Jacks with five blocks during Tuesday's 25-21, 25-14, 25-14 section semifinal victory at Monticello, will join her teammates in Detroit Lakes Friday for the Section 8-3A championship match against Fergus Falls.

BHS, which has won 10 of its last 11 outings, will take a 23-8 record into the section final while Fergus Falls is 23-5.

Joining Bardwell at the net are fellow juniors Jess Yost and Allie Heifort. All three possess the height needed to be an offensive and defensive threat and collectively they provide a 1-2-3 punch that is difficult for opponents to overcome.

"Blake's arms are so long that she can get her elbows over the net," Yost said. "And Allie has so much energy and good vibes that she keeps all of us pumped up for the entire match.

"My role is to be one of the leaders," Yost continued. "Last year it seemed that I was just thrown into being a leader after Kayla (Hirt) went down with her knee injury. But this year we have found our leaders and I'm just one of them."

Fans who have followed the Lumberjacks this fall couldn't help but observe the fun the girls seem to be having. According to Yost, having fun has been an instrumental element in this year's success.

"When we go on the court we joke around because when we have fun we play our best volleyball," Yost said.

Heifort plays with an enthusiasm that is contagious and, in addition to being a key weapon, she is the main cheerleader.

"As a middle and outside hitter my job is to kill and block but I also want to pump up the team and make sure everybody is having fun," Heifort said. "When we hit the court we want to play our best but we also want to have fun because the two go hand-in-hand.

"I love volleyball and I love this team," Heifort continued. "I trust everybody out there to do their best and they trust me to do mine."

Since the St. Michael-Albertville tournament in early October Bemidji has been playing its best. The Lumberjacks went 3-2 at the prestigious event and have posted a 9-1 record since.

"During that tournament we changed our rotation," Bardwell said. "That change has helped us make better use of our height."

"I think the St. Michael tournament was a turning point for us," Yost said. "Since we put in that new rotation we have just gotten better and better."

The late-season run has featured two victories in three matches against Wadena-Deer Creek, 3-1 victories over Dilworth-Glyndon Felton and Lake of the Woods, a gutty 3-2 come-from-behind triumph at Moorhead in the section quarterfinals and Tuesday's impressive 3-0 demolition at Monticello.

"We know what our game is and we're getting better each match," Yost said. "Our 23 wins have set a school record and we are the first volleyball team ever to reach the section finals.

"I don't think other teams expected us to go this deep into the playoffs but we did."

Bardwell, Yost and Heifort all are eager to continue their season Friday and, hopefully, beyond.

"I'm very excited," Bardwell said. "This will be my first section final and I can't wait."

"I'm a little nervous but once we start playing I'll be fine," Yost said. "If we play our game we should be in good shape."

Heifort said that Bemidji is playing as well now as it has all season and if the Jacks continue that progression Friday a state tournament berth is well within reach.

"All year we have capitalized on our strengths and worked to improve our weaknesses," she said. "Every team wants to peak during the tournaments and we are.

"On Friday we hope to come out and play our game like we did against Monticello," Heifort continued. "Fergus Falls is a good team and we'll have to play our best. We can't take any point for granted. And I know we won't."

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

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