Young, talented team seeks another shot at section title
BEMIDJI -- During a recent practice Bemidji boys soccer coach Rick Toward was stationed outside one of the goal pipes as his players were working on ways to clear the zone. An attempt failed, however, when an errant pass sailed directly to an attacker and created a legitimate scoring opportunity. And that is exactly what the coach didn't want to see.
"High, far and wide. That's the rule," Toward told his defenders. "High, far and wide."
It is likely that the coach will have to highlight more than just the clearing rule this fall and he probably will have to repeat those team doctrines on a regular basis.
"We have a talented group but it is a young group," Toward said. "In the back we still have seniors Gunnar Nelson, Matt Bitter and Charlie Sandquist plus junior Josh Claussen so we do have experience there. But we'll probably start two freshmen as strikers and two sophomores at midfield. We also have a new goalie.
"And all of the new players makes for an interesting situation."
The Lumberjacks are coming off a 2012 campaign which included an 11-2-2 regular season record, a 13-3-2 overall mark and a trip to the Section 8A championship game where they fell 3-1 to arch-rival St. Cloud Cathedral.
In recent years BHS and St. Cloud Cathedral have been the top two programs in the section but the Crusaders have always found a way to win the title and deny the Jacks a trip to the state tournament. Earning another shot at the Crusaders this fall is on Bemidji's list of things to accomplish.
"Our season goals are to win the conference and play on turf. And that means we must play in the section final," Toward said. "Because we are young I wouldn't be surprised to see us have a hiccup along the way. We may lose to a team that we should beat but that can happen to any team. Potentially, however, I think we can have a very good season."
The seniors, including midfielder Joel Johannsen, Nelson, Bitter and Sandquist, will be expected to provide the leadership. The only other returning letterwinner is junior striker Alex Schussman.
"Because we have so many younger players, this is the hardest year (assistant coach) Jeff Mitchell and I have had in a long time in terms of team selection," Toward said. "But that is a very exciting situation because I believe that this team has potential.
"I don't see us conceding many goals and if we can get our midfield figured out we should be able to score some goals. We know there is talent but to compliment what we have out front the players will have to to play a game that is new to them," Toward continued. "There are tons of ways to play this game and as coaches we try to compliment the group of players by putting in things that go to their strengths."
Toward believes that a control game could be the formula for success for this year's squad. It has worked with other Bemidji teams and it should work with the 2013 edition.
"Because we are small and quick we will try to put pressure on the ball when we are not in possession," he said. "And when we do have the ball I think the best way to use our talents is to control the pace with short passes.
"To get to the section final and to win that game a team needs to be good and needs to have some luck," Toward continued. "One of these years we'll find that luck, get over the hump and make it to the state tournament. And who knows, maybe this is the year."