For some, the waiting feels endless.
As years pass by without a championship, doubts that once whispered begin to scream: Will there ever be another?
But destiny can’t easily be denied. These four programs have endured the longest section championship droughts in Bemidji High School history, but the ultimate feeling of victory is unrivaled in its richness.
In the final installment of a series highlighting the biggest drought-breakers in school history, read the tales of Lumberjacks who led BHS into the promised land -- ending the longest waits the town has ever seen.
2015 boys hockey: 29 years
When the premiere event in Minnesota sports commenced in 2015, the Bemidji boys hockey team was back on the stage for the first time in 29 years.
The state hockey tournament, unlike anything else the Land of 10,000 Lakes has to offer, witnessed the outstate Lumberjacks return to the ice for the first time since George Pelawa’s Mr. Hockey days of 1986.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” BHS head coach Wade Chiodo said. “It’s pretty cool what they did and it’s huge for the community, the school, our program and most importantly the kids on the ice.”
Bemidji waltzed through the Section 8AA field, winning three games by a combined 14-0 score. The ultimate moment came in a 2-0 triumph over Moorhead for the title.
The Jacks seized momentum into each intermission. Brady Tatro scored with 16 seconds left in the first period on a rebound from Rocky Copiskey, and Jake Leitner lit the lamp two seconds before the second intermission on a snipe from the slot.
“Right now I don’t even care about (having the game-winning goal),” Tatro said. “All that matters is our team won and we are heading to the Xcel (Energy Center).”
Goaltender Grant Tharaldson stopped all 25 shots that the Spuds slung his way. He was a perfect 59-for-59 in the tournament.
“(Tharaldson) was unreal,” Tatro said. “He stood on his head for us tonight. He definitely won this game, no doubt about it.”
“I’ve got a great defense blocking shots,” Tharaldson added. “They’ve been my rock all year and I can always count on them being there for me.”
Bemidji became the first team since the 1996 Alexandria squad to knock off Roseau or Moorhead from atop the Section 8AA field.
“It’s huge,” Tharaldson said. “Growing up we are playing (Moorhead and Roseau) constantly and to end their streak is pretty awesome.”
BHS lost both games in the state tournament, but the 2015-16 team returned and claimed the Class AA consolation championship. It remains tied -- with Pelawa’s 1986 team -- for the third-best finish in program history.
2018 softball: 30 years
After decades of games, thousands of at-bats and far too many championship losses, the Bemidji softball team finally made it through the gauntlet in 2018.
“It’s just so much fun watching the girls do it, and it’s just some validation that you’re doing some things right as a coach,” longtime head coach Brad Takkunen said. “But the girls do it, so that’s what’s so much fun to see is that they buy into what you’re saying.”
Takkunen estimated that the program had reached the section championship between six and eight times during its 30-year history, but it wasn’t until the 2018 team arrived that the program brought home some hardware.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” junior slugger Evette Morgan said. “This team is amazing. It’s a new team, so there’s a lot of unexpected stuff going on going into the season. They really surprised me.”
The Lumberjacks defeated Sartell-St. Stephen 11-2 in the championship, which came a day after the Sabres toppled a shaky BHS team 7-5 and forced a winner-take-all rematch.
In the final showdown, Maddie Hanson tossed a complete game from the circle for Bemidji, going seven innings and allowing two runs (one earned) while her offense stayed hot.
Morgan belted a three-run home run in the second inning, foreshadowing a three-run fourth and a two-run frames in the fifth and sixth.
The lead was never in danger by then, and a 1-2-3 seventh finalized the Jacks’ championship run through the Section 8-3A field.
“(Takkunen) said at the beginning of the year, ‘You’re a special group.’ And we are,” Hanson said. “We show it, and we are happy and we do what we need to do. We play Bemidji ball, and it works.”
BHS lost 8-0 to eventual champion Faribault in the state opener but rebounded on Morgan’s walk-off homer in the consolation semifinals, an 8-6 win over Rocori. Bemidji placed sixth after losing 12-1 to Holy Angels in the consolation championship.
“They’re all great kids,” Takkunen said of his team. “It’s such a fun team to be part of, and I’m glad we were able to extend it a little longer.”
2011 volleyball: 33 years
Growing up, the volleyball players on Bemidji’s 2011 team didn’t have a recipe to follow to reach the state tournament.
So they made one.
The Lumberjacks claimed the section crown for the first time in their 33-year history with a clean sweep over Fergus Falls in the 8-3A title bout.
“It’s big for our community because we’ve never had anything like this,” BHS head coach Teresa Colligan said. “This is huge for our community, for our team, for our program.”
“It means everything,” added junior Jess Yost. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and we are really at the top of our game right now.”
Bemidji reeled off a 20-8 regular season, which earned the Jacks a No. 3 seed entering postseason play. After sweeping Alexandria in the opener, BHS rallied from a 2-1 deficit and upset Moorhead in a five-set quarterfinal barnburner -- Bemidji’s first-ever playoff win against the Spuds.
Still, the Lumberjacks were far from done. Next came Monticello, the No. 1 seed in the south subsection, but they proved to be no match for BHS. Bemidji swept the Magic to advance to the program’s first section championship game.
The Jacks brought their “1-2-3 punch” of Yost, Allie Heifort and Blake Bardwell to face Fergus Falls, and all three helped pave the way to history.
“After we defeated Moorhead we knew nobody was going to stop us,” captain Jenna Sagedahl said. “Monticello and Fergus Falls were both quality teams but we had it in our mindset that nobody was going to beat us.”
Bemidji lost to Lakeville North and Cretin-Derham Hall in the state tournament. But BHS won its first state game by beating Owatanna 3-1 in the consolation semifinals the next season, and the Jacks won their third section title in four years during the 2014 campaign.
But nobody else can ever claim what the 2011 team accomplished.
“It’s our dream,” Yost said of winning the section championship. “It’s been my dream for so long. We are the first volleyball from Bemidji to go to state and it just means so, so much.”
2019 boys basketball: 34 years
No Lumberjacks have waited longer than those in the boys basketball program.
For more than three decades, a storied program, 29 state tournament appearances and three state championships felt further and further buried as Bemidji couldn’t duplicate the championship success it most recently felt in 1985. Finally, though, a team of destiny emerged.
“We’re proud to get this for all the past and present Lumberjacks,” Bemidji head coach Travis Peterson said. “It’s for everybody involved. It’s been a long time coming.”
The 2018-19 team played with prowess all season, starting 9-0 and ultimately earning Section 8-3A’s No. 1 seed. They reached the championship game thanks to a 40-32 first-round win over Detroit Lakes and a 57-47 semifinal win over St. Cloud Apollo.
Just Sartell-St. Stephen stood in their way of the championship. And the Jacks were done waiting.
Spencer Konecne scored 14 points, and Quincy Wilson put up 13 as BHS led wire-to-wire for a thrilling 67-58 victory.
“It’s exciting for our community, it’s exciting for everyone here,” junior Silas Hess said. “I think that’s the most important thing: We did it for this community. We did it for each other, ultimately, as well. We’re just excited.”
Bemidji’s lead was just 48-45 with five minutes remaining, but the Jacks always had the answer. Wilson drained a 3-pointer and then assisted Hess on a layup to help restore a 10-point lead, and the Sabres never came closer than seven the rest of the way.
“There were plenty of times where I thought we had it for a while, and then they started coming back,” Konecne said. “They didn’t give up. They kept going.”
BHS ran into basketball powerhouse DeLaSalle in the first round of state, losing 76-45. The encore was an 87-49 consolation loss to Mahtomedi the next day. But that team will be remembered for its section run, something once so common but now a treasured accomplishment.
“We have so many Lumberjack fans who have lived through a long period of not getting down to Williams Arena or Target Center,” Peterson said. “So this is for everybody.”