Historic and euphoric: The biggest and best of Bemidji-area sports in 2021

As the focus shifts to all that could be in 2022, take a look back on 2021’s biggest sports moments in Bemidji and beyond.

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Bemidji State celebrates at the final horn following a 6-3 victory over Wisconsin in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at Bridgeport, Conn., on Friday, March 26, 2021. (Greg Vasil / Special to the Pioneer)
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Local athletes and teams found all sorts of avenues to pack history into 2021.

The Beavers had unparalleled success in football and soccer -- not to mention a mighty men’s hockey run -- and state tournaments were crawling with Lumberjacks all year.

There was plenty of good to go around, and while hard moments were also present, many will look back on the year with satisfaction, pride and perhaps even a hint of nostalgia.

As the focus shifts to all that could be in 2022, take a look back on 2021’s biggest sports moments in Bemidji and beyond.


Jan. 8: Former Bemidji State star Gunner Olszewski was honored as the best at his trade. The Associated Press named the New England Patriots wide receiver to the All-Pro First Team as a punt returner after he led the league in return yards (346) and average (17.3). READ MORE

Feb. 20: Derek Thompson ended the 2020-21 campaign with a bang for the Bemidji State men’s basketball team. Thompson dropped 45 points in the season finale, setting the program’s new single-game scoring record and leading BSU to a 109-85 win over Minnesota Crookston. READ MORE

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Bemidji State senior Derek Thompson (2) shoots to score his 45th point of the game, breaking BSU’s single-game scoring record, during a win over Minnesota Crookston on Feb. 20, 2021, at the BSU Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Feb. 26: The Bemidji State women’s basketball team made the final leap in its resurgence within the NSIC. The Beavers reached the NSIC Tournament semifinals for just the second time ever after beating Concordia-St. Paul in a 71-70 game that went down to the wire. READ MORE

March 12: Nick Youso skied his way into rare air at the state meet, placing 14th individually with a time of 21:09.5. His all-state finish was the best individual showing for a Bemidji High School boys Nordic skier since 1999. READ MORE

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Bemidji senior Nick Youso tucks as he glides down a hill during the classic race at the boys Nordic skiing state meet at Giants Ridge on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Jed Carlson / Forum News Service)


March 26: Bemidji State men’s hockey shocked No. 1 seed Wisconsin 6-3 in the regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament, sending the Beavers to their first Elite Eight since 2009. Ethan Somoza scored two goals and Zach Driscoll made 30 saves in the monumental win. READ MORE

March 26: The Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball team won its first section crown since 2005, qualifying for its fourth state tournament in program history with a 65-55 win over Stephen-Argyle. Taryn Frazer scored a team-high 19 points, while three other Panthers reached double-digits. READ MORE

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Cass Lake-Bena girls basketball players celebrate after winning the Section 8A championship game against Stephen-Argyle Central on Friday, March 26, 2021, at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

March 27: BHS gymnastics had its best day ever as Lauren Berg, Mady Schmidt and Tatum Offerdahl shattered all of the program’s previous state meet benchmarks. Berg tied for fourth on vault, Schmidt tied for fifth on floor and Offerdahl placed 11th on bars, all better than any previous state performance by a Lumberjack gymnast. READ MORE

April 16: Bemidji High School narrowly fell on the wrong end of the MSHSL’s enrollment threshold, bumping up 13 sports to the state’s highest class. The realignment, in effect for 2021-22 and 2022-23, creates higher competitive and logistical challenges for BHS. READ MORE

April 18: Nobody in the NSIC was better than Chris Swenson in 2021. The Bemidji State men’s golfer carded a 3-under-par at the conference championship, becoming the first Beaver to capture the individual crown since 2008-09. READ MORE

May 4: Pitcher Isaiah Biehn dealt a perfect game for BHS baseball, blanking Alexandria 10-0 in the second half of a doubleheader by recording 15 consecutive outs. The Lumberjacks swept the double dip after winning the first game 5-2. READ MORE


May 29: Zoe Carrasco made a habit of racking up All-American honors. She captured her third and final such award for BSU track and field when she finished 11th in shot put at outdoor nationals. She also won the NSIC Outdoor shot put title two weeks prior. READ MORE

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Bemidji State junior Zoe Carrasco earned her third career All-American award on Saturday, May 29, 2021, after placing 11th at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Allendale, Mich. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

June 2: A Bemidji High School boys tennis title was a long time coming. The Lumberjacks captured their first known section championship in 48 years by beating Alexandria 5-2 under first-year head coach Kyle Fodness. The timing was fitting, too, as the win honored Fodness’ father, longtime coach Mark Fodness, just months after his death. READ MORE

June 19: Bemidji was well represented at the Class AA state meet, as the Lumberjacks produced three top-five finishes and top-10 showings in all seven of their events. The boys’ 4x800 relay team of Brooks Matetich, Paul Louvar, Isaak McDonald and Nick Youso headlined the day by placing second -- the program’s best finish in any event since 2017. READ MORE

July 31: Siblings Andrew and Emily Israelson made matching dominant runs all the way through the Birchmont Golf Tournament. Andrew won his third title in the men’s division, while Emily won her fifth women’s division crown -- and fourth in a row. With two more for the trophy case, the Israelson family now has 10 Birchmont championships. READ MORE

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Siblings Andrew Israelson, left, and Emily Israelson hug after winning the men’s and women’s championships on Saturday, July 31, 2021, during the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Sept. 29: No. 1 singles player Savannah Haugen claimed her 100th varsity win for the Bemidji High School girls tennis team. Haugen and the Lumberjacks then went on to clinch state berths as an individual and as a team, respectively, less than three weeks later. READ MORE

Nov. 20: The Bemidji State football team beat Augustana in BSU’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Beavers advanced to the Sweet 16 after dispatching the Vikings 28-24 on the road, which also served as payback since Augie spoiled Bemidji State’s homecoming in the regular season. READ MORE

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Bemidji State freshman Sam McGath (17) powers into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NCAA Tournament game against Augustana on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (BSU photo)

Nov. 21: Mariah Nguyen’s first career goal also doubled as the biggest strike in Bemidji State women’s soccer history. The BSU freshman scored the game-winning goal of a 1-0 win over Emporia State, sending the Beavers to their first-ever Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. READ MORE

Dec. 2: The Bemidji High School girls wrestling team made history, winning what is believed to be the first girls-only high school dual meet in Minnesota history at the BHS Gymnasium. Imrie Mistic’s pin made her the Jacks’ first winner in the landmark dual. READ MORE

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Bemidji sophomore Kylie Donat celebrates after her match on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the BHS Gymnasium. Donat and the Lumberjacks won what is believed to be the first girls-only wrestling match in Minnesota high school history. (Contributed)

Dec. 14: Jackie Johnson scored 40 points to tie the Bemidji High School girls basketball single-game program record. Johnson netted the record-tying total in a 69-62 win at Detroit Lakes, matching Kayla Hirt’s benchmark set in 2010. READ MORE

Dec. 15: Legendary former Bemidji State men’s hockey head coach Bob Peters died at the age of 84. He ended his career in 2001 with 744 career wins, which stands as sixth-most in NCAA history, and led the Beavers to 13 national championships. READ MORE

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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