BOYS TENNIS: Bemidji comes up clutch for opening Section 8AA Tourney win

Bemidji beat out Brainerd 4-3 in a suspenseful Section 8AA Tournament quarterfinal matchup.

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Bemidji senior Filippo Buffo returns a volley in a singles match against Brainerd in the Section 8AA Team Tournament on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the BHS tennis courts. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- As the attention narrowed from the entire tennis complex onto one court, John McNallan knew the spot he was in.

McNallan and his No. 2 doubles partner, Casey Rupp, were one set away from leading the Bemidji High School boys tennis team out of a 3-3 tie and past Brainerd in the Section 8AA Team Tournament on Wednesday.

The suspense was almost unbearable, but a killer forehand to win it and a mobbed-by-his-teammates kind of celebration were worth the wait for both McNallan and Rupp.

“I think we were up 5-3 (in the third set), and coach told us,” McNallan said of the team tie. “We kind of crumbled under pressure, and (Brainerd) got it to 5-4. But we pulled through and got the win for the team.”


The duo completed the 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, earning the Lumberjacks that coveted fourth team point and a spot in the Section 8AA semifinals.

“When you’re in the playoffs, you want to have really good, really tough matches like that,” BHS head coach Kyle Fodness said. “That was great, that’s what you want tennis to be about. It’s a really emotional sport, and you got to see it at the end.”

The high school courts were filled with high drama. Although Filippo Buffo cruised 6-1, 6-1 at first singles and Noah Johnson grinded out a 6-0, 7-5 victory at second singles, the team score was tied at 2-2 when singles play concluded.

“Filippo really controlled his match early, and that starts you off with a lot of confidence at No. 1 singles,” Fodness said. “And Noah Johnson, just like he has all year, played a really smart match and won. That got us off to a good start.”

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Bemidji junior Noah Johnson races to return a volley in a singles match against Brainerd in the Section 8AA Team Tournament on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the BHS tennis courts. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The turning point may very well have been on the third doubles court, where Max Harris and Jack McNallan prevailed 7-5, 6-3 to hand the home team a 3-2 edge.


“They were down most of the first set,” Fodness said. “Getting one of our doubles teams to win that first set, that’s big for momentum.”

Only first and second doubles were still playing by then, and the top tandem of Michael Dickinson and Logan Jensen narrowly missed out on victory in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 thriller.

And so the responsibility fell to McNallan and Rupp, who weren’t about to let a 5-2 lead in the third set go to waste.

“We’ve just got to focus on the next point,” McNallan said. “If you focus on that, it doesn’t matter what the score is. You’re going to be playing aggressive, playing hard and getting the next point.”

As the crowd ooh’d and aah’d with every swing, held its breath at every deuce and celebrated with every point, the Jacks inched closer to victory. And the two in charge were just the men for the job.

“(Rupp’s serving) was huge. He’s been working on that all year,” Fodness said. “And John did a great job being aggressive. He was all over the net. What more can you ask for, whether you win or lose? You play to your strengths, and that was fun to see.”

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Bemidji senior Logan Jensen attacks the ball for a return in a doubles match against Brainerd in the Section 8AA Team Tournament on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the BHS tennis courts. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)


The 4-3 victory sends Bemidji into the final four of Section 8AA, where BHS will face Becker for the right to advance to the championship.

The semifinals and finals will take place on Wednesday, June 2, at St. Cloud Tech, with the semifinals beginning at noon and the finals at 4 p.m.

Alexandria and St. Cloud Tech face off in the other semifinal.

First, though, the Section 8AA Individual Tournament will begin at 10 a.m. Friday, May 28, in Alexandria.

In singles, Buffo and Johnson each earned first-round byes. In doubles, Dickinson and Jensen also earned a first-round bye, while John McNallan and Rupp face Sartell-St. Stephen’s Aidan Woods and Bailey Woods.

Bemidji 4, Brainerd 3



No. 1: Buffo (BEM) def. Morachan, 6-1, 6-1

No. 2: Johnson (BEM) def. Anderson, 6-0, 7-5

No. 3: Madson (BRD) def. Cerven, 6-2, 6-2

No. 4: Boberg (BRD) def. Fuhrman, 6-3, 6-2


No. 1: Barber/Cambell (BRD) def. Dickinson/Jensen, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4

No. 2: Jo. McNallan/Rupp (BEM) def. McConisey/Haglin, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

No. 3: Ja. McNallan/Harris (BEM) def. Aadland/Emslander, 7-5, 6-3


Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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