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Bemidji volleyball team opens state tournament against Lakeville North

During the course of a long season successful teams often can point to a few games or matches that eliminated any doubt about the squad's potential.

For the Bemidji volleyball team switching the rotation at the St. Michael-Albertville tournament in early October provided the spark and the come-from-behind victory over Moorhead in the quarterfinals of the Section 8-3A completed the ignition process.

That fire enabled the Lumberjacks to burn Monticello and Fergus Falls on way to the Section 8-3A title and paved the way for Friday's 11 a.m. match against Lakeville North in the quarterfinals of the state high school tournament.

During the memorable victory over Moorhead BHS was on the brink of elimination as it trailed 2-1 in games. But the Lumberjacks regrouped, recovered and ultimately destroyed the Spuds 25-10, 15-8 in the final two games.

"After the St. Michael tournament we decided to treat every match like it was the section championship," said senior tri-captain Nicole McDonald. "In years past we often looked too far ahead but this year we just concentrated on the next game and the next match.

"When we got to the section tournament we knew how to play. Our approach was that we were just in another game. And playing one game at a time was how we got by Moorhead," McDonald added.

Fellow senior tri-captain Jenna Sagedahl also pointed to the win over Moorhead as the catalyst for this week's trip to the Xcel Center.

"After we defeated Moorhead we knew nobody was going to stop us," Sagedahl said. "Monticello and Fergus Falls were both quality teams but we had it in our mindset that nobody was going to beat us."

That approach resulted in relatively easy 3-0 wins over their section challengers and a berth in the state tournament.

Bemidji (24-8) was one of the four unseeded teams in the Class 3A field while Lakeville North (24-5) was seeded second. The Lumberjacks are making their first appearance at the state meet while Lakeville North is a regular participant.

Last fall the Panthers won the Class 3A state title, demolishing Wayzata 25-13, 25-18, 25-13 in the championship match.

Lakeville North also was a state entrant in 2005, 2006 and 2007, placing second in 2006.

Prior to the split into Lakeville North and Lakeville South, the program advanced to the state meet 11 times from 1981 to 2004.

This fall Lakeville North was the third seed in Section 3 and defeated No. 1 Lakeville South 25-20, 17-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-13 for the championship.

"Historically Lakeville North is a very well-known program," said BHS coach Teresa Colligan. "But we're going down there to compete. We're going to play our best. All you can do is play your best."

Bemidji and Lakeville North have one mutual opponent. The Jacks blanked Hibbing 3-0 midway through the fall while Lakeville North defeated the Bluejackets 2-0 during a tourney hosted by Lakeville North.

BHS and the Panthers also participated in the Southwest Minnesota Challenge in early September but their paths never crossed.

The Lumberjacks did watch Lakeville North during that event.

"Lakeville North has a go-to outside hitter and we'll have to watch her," McDonald said. "But everybody at state is good and so are we. We will have to play our best to win and so will Lakeville North."

Colligan believed that this year's team could be the one that would make history and she isn't surprised that the Lumberjacks have enjoyed such a successful campaign.

"When I first joined the program I was told by experienced coaches that it takes 10 years to make it when you first start out," the coach said. "This is the 10th year.

"And it's been a great year."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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