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This week at Bemidji High School: Fall sports officially begin

BEMIDJI -- Next Monday the girls tennis team will officially begin the competitive portion of the Bemidji High School sports campaigns when it heads to Pine City for the inaugural invitational meet of the fall.

The Lumberjacks will have only one week of practice under their belts prior to the trip to Pine City as the squad hit the court for the first time yesterday when coach Mark Fodness greeted his veterans and the newcomers who hope to be noticed by the coaching staff.

The tennis team was one of eight BHS programs to begin their fall practices Monday. Also initiating their seasons were the boys and girls cross country teams, the football squad, the boys and girls soccer teams, the girls swimmers and the volleyball team.

The first week of practices will offer the players opportunities to impress their coaches. It will also give the coaches the opportunities to explain just what it takes to represent the Lumberjacks on the court, the field and the pool.

"I'm looking to see who is back, who is new and how the summer treated the guys," said BHS boys soccer coach Rick Toward during Monday's practice. "And, really, for the first day I'm seeing quite a few good things. The coaches know most of the kids and we know what they can do. But I'm also seeing some good surprises."

Fodness also entered Monday's practice with a working knowledge of his roster and its potential. What he didn't know prior to the girls hitting the court was if they were in the proper shape physically to endure the rigors of the early season.

It didn't take him long to find out, however.

"We had the girls run one mile at the start of practice," Fodness said. "And I was pleased to see how they pushed themselves and the intensity they brought to that run.

"On the first day I'm looking for that initial enthusiasm," Fodness continued. "And the girls came in ready to go."

The coach attributed that enthusiasm to the tournaments the girls played in during the summer. Those who worked on their games the past few months are ahead of their peers and have an edge when it comes to the depth chart.

"During the first week we have to create our ladder. We have to decide who the top players are," Fodness said. "Because we start the season next Monday we need to work on establishing that ladder right away."

Toward also spent Monday evaluating the strengths and weakness of his players and he was pleasantly surprised by what he saw from some of the younger troops.

"I saw some good freshmen and sophomores out here who are making the coaches' lives a little tougher," Toward said. "The coaches need to make the decisions about the roster and the lineup and, because of what we are seeing from the younger players, we can't just go with the upperclassmen. And that's a good thing."

The other BHS coaches are also hoping to see a push for playing time from the underclassmen. Internal competition is a requirement for team success and at the high school level seniority always takes a back seat to talent.

"The big thing we stress during the first week is setting team expectations," Fodness said, "and I think we got off to a great start in that regard on Monday. "The girls are paying attention to the details. In our sport it is not enough to get the ball over the net. You have to put it in the exact spot to be successful. And on Monday the girls were looking for that exact spot."

Football team in CLC

For the first time in 30 years the Bemidji High School football team will belong to a conference. During the offseason the Lumberjacks, Grand Rapids and Moorhead became members of the Central Lakes Conference.

Because of the new members the CLC has expanded into the North and South divisions and all three new members belong to the North Division. Joining them are established CLC squads Brainerd, Alexandria and Fergus Falls.

The South Division features St. Cloud Tech, St. Cloud Apollo, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, Willmar and Rocori.

The schedules call for each team to play all the opponents within its division plus three of the teams in the other division. The next season the team will play the other non-division teams.

This year finds the Lumberjacks hosting Sauk Rapids (Sept. 6) and Rocori (Sept. 27) and visiting Sartell (Sept. 20).

Within the North Division BHS will visit Grand Rapids (Aug. 29), Fergus Falls (Sept. 13) and Brainerd (Oct. 5) and will entertain Alexandria (Oct. 11) and Moorhead (Oct. 16).

Bemidji High School activities director and head football coach Troy Hendricks was contacted by the CLC officials and asked about Bemidji's interest in joining the league and creating the two divisions.

And Hendricks jumped at the chance.

"This gave us an opportunity to have a team conference championship and have individual and team conference awards," Hendricks said. "It also gives us the opportunity to resume natural rivalries, such as our rivalry with Grand Rapids, and have those results become very important.

"Hopefully this arrangement will continue."

Only the Lumberjacks football program has been invited into the Central Lakes Conference and, because the established CLC programs do not want to be forced to travel to Bemidji on an annual basis, it is unlikely that the winter or spring teams will have the opportunity to join the league any time soon.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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