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Bemidji HS boys soccer team hosts St. Cloud Cathedral in section championship

After seeing his team start the season 0-2 Bemidji boys soccer coach Rick Toward issued a challenge to the Lumberjacks.

"I told the players we needed someone to step up and become a leader. I told them we needed all 11 guys on the field to take charge," Toward said.

It is obvious that the players heeded Toward's request as the Jacks finished the year losing only two of their final 18 games and finishing the regular season 12-4-1.

Among the rewards for their efforts was a No. 2 seed in the sub-section tournament and Bemidji has made the most of that position, posting three victories in as many section games.

Today the 15-4-1 Lumberjacks will try to climax their section run with the 8A championship as they entertain St. Cloud Cathedral (16-4-1) at 3 p.m. at the middle school field.

"Since the early part of the season everyone has emerged as a leader," Toward said. "All season long we knew we had the talent to make a run at the section title and at this time of the year winning is a product of the heart as much as it is a product of the legs. When you get to the section final both teams will be talented and often the difference is simply telling yourself that you are not going to get beat today."

BHS is coming off Tuesday's 1-0 win at Sartell while Cathedral upset Hillcrest Lutheran Academy 3-0. Max Hazelton scored the decisive goal in Tuesday's victory.

"It's been a very fun year," Hazelton said. "Everyone on the team is getting along so well and that is a big part of our success."

Tuesday Hazelton took a feed from Kyle Fodness and powered his shot through the outstretched arms of the netminder. The goal was Hazelton's 17th of the fall and he trails only Kyle Fodness who has 18.

"Shooting is all reaction," Hazelton said. "I'm not really thinking where to put it when I get ready for a shot. If I do think about the shot the ball usually doesn't go where I am aiming."

Luke Upgren plays right midfield for the Jacks and he helps transition the ball from the defense to the offense. The senior isn't surprised that BHS will host Cathedral today because he has seen the players develop into a cohesive unit.

"Early in the year we were trying new things and it took us awhile to adjust to what we were doing," Upgren said. "But now we have really found our way as a team."

At this late stage of the season there is no reason to implement many changes and Toward said that defense will set the tone.

"If you give up two or three goals in the game in the tournaments you don't give yourself a very good chance to win," the coach said. "But if we can limit Cathedral to no goals or maybe one goal, and if our offense can find the net once or twice, who knows what can happen?"

"We're going to come out and try to spread the field and possess the ball," Upgren said. "Ball possession is something we work on and it will be important for us to stay focused and calm but also to play with intensity."

Today's lineup will see Connor McNallan in the net and Fodness joining Hazelton as the strikers.

In addition to Upgren the midfielders will be Isak Sommer, Nick Gorick and Austin Kovach. Handling the defensive chores will be Tony Smith, Tanner Koetter, Zach Jones and Ian Sweeney Smith.

"We're very excited," Hazelton said. "We've always wanted to play in the section championship game and here is our chance. I believe that if we play our game for 80 minutes we will come out on top."

NOTE: Bemidji soccer fans are reminded that an admission of $7 for adults and $4 for students will be charged at today's game, as ordered by the Section 8A officials.

Lumberjack athletic passes will not be valid for this game because it is sponsored by Section 8A and not by the school.

Fans are asked to park at the 23rd Street lot north of Sagedahl Diamond and walk to the north entrance of the field.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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