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VOLLEYBALL: Bemidji ready to do damage at state

The Bemidji High School volleyball team made a trip to J.W. Smith Elementary School Wednesday morning to hold a mini-pep fest with the student body. Shown leading a cheer is senior Allie Heifort surrounded by the rest of her BHS teammates. The Lumberjacks will take on No. 2-seeded Blaine at 11 a.m. today in first-round state tournament action at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Late in the 2011 season Bemidji’s volleyball team caught fire, winning eight of its final nine matches. That streak was punctuated by four victories in the Section 8-3A tournament and those triumphs carried the Lumberjacks into the state tournament at the Xcel Center in St. Paul for the first time in the program’s history.

Bemidji’s first-round opponent at the state meet was defending champion Lakeville North. The Panthers’ experience proved to be the difference as Lakeville North posted a 25-10, 25-7, 29-27 victory.

In the next day’s consolation bracket the Lumberjacks were eliminated 26-24, 25-17, 25-18 by Cretin-Derham Hall.

“I think a big part of last year’s losses at state was that we were awestruck,” said BHS senior defensive specialist Jasmin Yerbich. “The floor was different, the set-up was different and the spotlight was on us. It was a different feel than we were used to.

“But, now that we’ve been to state before, I hope that awestruck feeling is behind us. And I believe that it is,” Yerbich added.

The Lumberjacks (23-7) return to the Xcel Center 11 a.m. today to face Blaine (29-1) in the state quarterfinals. BHS will return to the Xcel Center 11 a.m. Friday and will play Eden Prairie or Owatonna either in the championship or consolation semifinals.

Blaine’s lone loss this fall was a 25-22, 25-21 setback at the hands of Wayzata.

Today’s contest is a rematch of Blaine’s 25-13, 25-20 win over Bemidji Sept. 21 at the Apple Valley Invitational. Lumberjacks senior Jess Yost, however, believes that BHS has the ability to reverse that decision.

“The last time we played Blaine we weren’t at our best,” Yost said. “But right now we are playing very well and I think (Thursday’s match) should be a different.”

Blaine is seeded No. 2 in the tournament and is making its seventh overall trip to the state meet. Like the Jacks, the Bengals went 0-2 last year at state.

“Blaine has very quick hitters and a solid offense and defense,” said BHS senior Allie Heifort. “Because we played Blaine before we know what they bring to the table and we know that, if we play our game, we can get Blaine off kilter.

“I feel that we have more hitters than Blaine and that we can get them off their game,” Heifort added. “Many people are considering us as underdogs but I believe that, if we put our talent to our best use, we can come out on top.”

Yerbich is thrilled that she will be ending her high school volleyball career at the state meet and she has every intention of making the most of the opportunity.

“It’s an amazing feeling going to state again,” she said. “This year we wanted to put everything we had onto the court and not take anything for granted.

“And I’m thrilled that all of that hard work paid off and that our season wasn’t cut short.”

“We belong at the state tournament,” Yost said. “We have proven that we can win at this high level and the time has come for us to do some damage at state and show that we are a very good team.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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