BEMIDJI -- After falling 3-0 to No. 3 Mahtomedi in the Class A state quarterfinals a year ago, the Bemidji High School girls soccer team once again drew the defending state champion Zephyrs as their first round opponent this year, and Mahtomedi is favored to win it again as the top seed this time.
Today’s contest kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium at St. Cloud State.
“We played against them last year, so we’ve definitely grown from that and we know how they play, so we can use that to our advantage,” said Bemidji senior goalie Allison Beard, who made the all-state tournament team last fall. “We’re just going to go out there knowing that we’re the underdog. The pressure’s on them, so we’re just kind of showing up and playing and that’s when we do our best.”
The Lumberjacks (13-4-3) have studied the game film of last year’s contest. According to head coach Logan Larsen, they’ve taken a lot from it and realize their potential as they get a second crack at the Zephyrs (12-5-1).
“Last year, I’d say they deservedly won,” he said. “... We came out scared, but now we can see that video, look back on that time and know we did have chances, we did have direct kicks on the other end, we did push towards their end and had some failures to deliver the type of plays that create assists. So we know that, if we are at the top of our game, we can hang with this team.
“So much of it is mental, and I think just knowing that playing them last year despite them certainly being the better team, we believe our program has improved on so many levels since last year. It is a confidence booster having that video and see that and realize if we are there with confidence, we can do well.”
Due to a combined six goals in their final three Section 8A tournament games, the Lumberjacks have focused heavily on scoring in the practices leading up to their tilt with Mahtomedi.
“We’re hoping to have a more attack-minded approach,” Larsen said. “We have a good record defensively, a pretty low goals against average, but it takes more than defense to win games. We’re just really emphasizing urgency when we get into that final third and having a little bit of creativity using the whole field rather than just being direct.”
But if there’s one thing Bemidji has proven over the last two seasons, it’s that they know how to find ways to win in big games.
Last season, the Jacks edged Sartell-St. Stephen 1-0 in the section semifinals and followed up by handing East Grand Forks its first loss of the season, 2-1, for the title.
This year, an Emma Dean goal in the final two minutes of regulation allowed for a Lindsey Hildenbrand golden goal and a 2-1 BHS win in the section quarterfinals against Fergus Falls. Five days later, after a 3-0 semifinal win over St. Cloud Cathedral, the tournament culminated in a 1-1 tie between Bemidji and Sartell after two overtimes, sending the game to a shootout.
“Basically, (assistant coach Kris VanWilgen-Hammitt) and Logan said, ‘You know, if you can save one, that’s awesome. We don’t expect you to save any. No one does, so just go out there and do your best,’” Beard said. “We’ve been working on (penalty kicks) a lot at practice so I had a little bit of confidence, but I was definitely nervous.”
The first two kicks went Bemidji’s way, with senior Harper Toward burying for the Jacks and Beard making a sprawling save on Sartell’s Saylor Voss.
“Harper is just so consistent, so it was great to start off with her. I knew she had it right away. I have a lot of confidence in her and her ability,” said Beard. “Saving mine, I think it definitely set the tempo, but honestly I was just kind of lucky. I guessed, and sometimes it goes that way, sometimes it doesn’t. But it was a good start.”
Morgan Kirchner missed the net on the Sabres next chance while Lindsey Hildenbrand and Alyse Stone scored for the Jacks. After Jenna Eibes kept Sartell alive on her try, Katie Alto clinched the win to send the Jacks to state.
On repeating as Section 8A champions and again advancing to state, Larsen said, “It just means that all the effort that they’ve put in has been rewarded. A lot of these girls have been playing since they were real small kids, so I’m just happy to see that their investment has paid off.”
Who: Bemidji (13-4-3) vs. No. 1 Mahtomedi (12-5-1)
What: Class A state tournament quarterfinals
Where: Husky Stadium, St. Cloud
When: 5:30 p.m. today
Radio: Lumberjack Radio Network/104.5 FM