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Bemidji High School soccer team falls to St. Cloud Cathedral in section championship

The trophy celebration was over and the Bemidji soccer players had headed to their improvised lockerroom under the press box when Tanner Koetter paused at the bench.

The senior co-captain held his Section 8A runnerup medal and smiled.

"I don't know about you but I think this thing is pretty cool," Koetter said.

When the Lumberjacks battled St. Cloud Cathedral Thursday for the 8A championship at the middle school field Koetter and his teammates were not playing for second place. But after the 3-0 loss to the Crusaders the section title was out of reach.

"Every season will eventually end and for us it ended in a loss to Cathedral in the section championship," said BHS coach Rick Toward. "We're disappointed but when you look back at the year, if you had told me at the beginning of the season that we would finish 15-5-1 and be the runnerup team in the section, I would have taken it.

"It's was a great year."

Even though the Lumberjacks did not play their best soccer Thursday they gave Cathedral everything it could handle. The Crusaders had the benefit of a strong wind in the first half and used it to dominate play and post a 1-0 lead.

In the second half, however, Bemidji played them on even terms until the final nine minutes when Cathedral scored twice, the final tally coming with 21 seconds remaining in the game.

"It really was a 1-0 game," Toward said. "We needed some offense at the end and with 10 minutes left I took a defender out. And Cathedral took advantage of that opportunity.

"We would rather attack and lose 3-0 than sit back and lose 1-0," the coach added.

The visitors held a distinct territorial advantage in the opening stanza and the wind helped the Crusaders establish that dominance. When Cathedral netminder Ben Kemper had a free kick he would boot it three-fourths of the way down the field.

When it was BHS goalie Connor McNallan's turn, however, the kick would barely make it to midfield.

And McNallan had plenty of chances to kick as he was constantly tested by the Cathedral attack.

The sophomore had another outstanding outing. He denied Sam Wood's uncontested rocket from 10 yards out 15 minutes into the play and late in the session soared to deflect a 15-yard floater by Dan Grundhoefer just over the crossbar.

In between, however, the Crusaders scored when Mark Shirley ripped a low screamer from 20 yards out through a screen. The shot eluded McNallan and the visitors led 1-0 with 19:15 to play.

"Cathedral moved the ball around very well and I think we were a bit tentative in the first half," Koetter said. "We didn't come out and play as hard as we needed to."

His coach agreed.

"In that first half it looked as if we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win," Toward said. "We adjusted in the second half but as it turned out, it wasn't enough."

Cathedral had the luxury of playing defensive soccer in the second stanza while Bemidji was forced to attack. The result was 30 minutes of play in the middle of the field and few legitimate scoring chances by either team.

"If we would have gotten a goal early in the second half we would have had the momentum and who knows what would have happened," Koetter said.

The 1-0 score stood until 9:11 remained when Shirley took a feed from Sam Wood and beat the defense to the box. McNallan came out to challenge but Shirley dribbled around the goalie and tapped it into the open net.

With 21 seconds to play Shirley set up Landon Strong for another tap-in.

Cathedral will take a 17-4-1 record into the state tournament while Bemidji ended the fall 15-5-1.

"What I will remember about this team is how we picked up our play during the season and how everybody on the team became a leader," Koetter said. "We had a great season and when we look back at the year we will find many fond memories."

Including a pretty cool looking medal.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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