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BABCOCK COLUMN: Counting down the top 10 moments for the Lumberjacks this year

Records were broken, and some truly incredible games were played. I embarked upon ranking the top 10 moments of the year in Jacks athletics, and here’s what cracked my list.

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Bemidji quarterback Jack Larson (10) hands off the ball to Gemini Ellis (1) in the first half against Alexandria in the Section 8-5A championship on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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There have been a number of memorable athletics moments this year at Bemidji High School. The Lumberjacks moved up a class in 13 sports, which led to some fierce competition and tough opponents, especially in section play. But despite that adversity, several BHS teams accomplished great things.

Multiple teams had massive upset wins in the section playoffs. One earned a section title, and a few more reached the championship stage.

Records were broken, and some truly incredible games were played. I embarked upon ranking the top 10 moments of the year in Jacks athletics, and here’s what cracked my list.

10. Ty Lundeen’s walk-off homer

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Bemidji junior Ty Lundeen (7) bats against Grand Rapids on Thursday, May 12, 2022, at the BSU baseball field.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

When a team starts an inning with two outs and no runners on base, its mind can start to wander to the next frame.

But thanks to the magic of baseball, there’s always an opportunity for something special to happen. That was true for Ty Lundeen when he stepped to the plate against Grand Rapids at the BSU baseball field.

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With Bemidji tied 3-3 with the Thunderhawks in the eighth inning, Lundeen launched a deep drive to left field. It cleared the wall and sent the Lumberjacks home with a jubilant 4-3 win. The victory helped BHS split the home doubleheader.

9. Girls basketball beats Alexandria for the first time in years

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Bemidji senior Kate Hildenbrand (14) and the Jacks celebrate after defeating Alexandria 51-49 on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

It had been 13 games since the Bemidji girls basketball team had beaten Alexandria, a streak spanning nine years. But 13 proved to be an unlucky number for the Cardinals when they traveled to Bemidji in January.

At the BHS Gymnasium, the Lumberjacks hacked out a tight 51-49 win thanks to Kate Hildenbrand’s late-game 6-0 run. Hildenbrand’s heroics flipped a 46-42 deficit into a 48-46 lead, then Jackie Johnson sealed the outcome with three clutch free throws. 

It was never going to be easy against an Alex team that had won the last 13 matchups – by an average margin of 20.2 points per game, no less. But on that Monday night in January, Hildenbrand imposed her will and pulled out the win for the Jacks.

8. Savannah Haugen hits 100 career wins

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Bemidji senior Savannah Haugen returns a volley in a singles match against Moorhead on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

One has to play a lot of tennis – and be pretty successful in the process – to reach 100 varsity wins in their career. Yet that’s exactly what No. 1 singles player Savannah Haugen did for the BHS girls tennis team during her senior year.

By defeating Brainerd’s Ella Chaussee, Haugen solidfied her excellence with an achievement that will stand the test of time. Since joining the varsity team in eighth grade, she had racked up wins at a prolific pace, and now, she had reached the century mark.

The team presented her with a giant tennis ball to commemorate the occasion, with members writing messages to Haugen on the ball’s bright pink surface. On the same day she was celebrated for her 100th win, Haugen picked up wins 101 and 102 in a triangular against Fergus Falls and Moorhead.

7. Volleyball upsets No. 3 Sartell-St. Stephen in section quarterfinal

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The Lumberjacks celebrate after defeating Moorhead 3-0 on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Bemidji’s volleyball team had its share of ups and downs during its regular-season slate. The Lumberjacks defeated Moorhead for the first time in seven years, but finished the regular season just 13-13. They were seeded sixth entering the Section 8-4A playoffs, set to face Sartell-St. Stephen.

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BHS had lost its regular-season tilt with the Sabres, falling 3-1 in Sartell-St. Stephen’s gym. But the Jacks flipped the script in the postseason, winning the first two sets of the match and holding on to win 3-1 and advance to the semifinals.

Afterward, they stopped by a local gas station to get some ice cream on the way home – a fitting marker for a sweet playoff moment and highlight of their season.

6. Girls soccer upsets No. 2 Brainerd in section quarterfinal

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Pouring rain obscured the field for a bit during the Section 8-3A Tournament playoff game between Bemidji and Brainerd on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Brainerd. (Kelly Humphrey / Forum News Service)

The girls soccer team did not have the regular season it was hoping for either. A experienced squad with plenty of senior leadership, the Lumberjacks managed a record of 7-6-2 in the regular season and notched the No. 7 seed in the Section 8-3A playoffs.

That didn’t matter, though, when BHS traveled to face second-seeded Brainerd. Though the Warriors had finished the regular season with a sterling mark of 11-1-3, the pitch belonged to Bemidji on this rainy day in October.

The Jacks struck first with a goal by senior Addy Kelly in the 33rd minute, then had to contend with some adversity when Brainerd immediately answered back with a score one minute later. But in the second half, senior Sydney Breyen netted the game-winner in the 58th minute, sending Bemidji to the improbable victory.

The Lumberjacks had lost their earlier meeting with Brainerd 5-1 at Bemidji Middle School. But when it came time for the postseason, BHS got it done.

5. Girls tennis wins second straight section title

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The Bemidji High School girls tennis team captured the program's sixth section championship on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, in Sartell, defeating Becker 4-3 in the championship. (Contributed)

When Bemidji girls tennis won the section title in 2020, it marked the first time a BHS group had done that since 2008.

But just one year later, the Lumberjacks did it again . They defeated Becker 4-3 in the Section 8AA Team Tournament final, earning another piece of hardware and clinching a trip to state – something they didn’t get to experience in 2020, when the state tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Anna Glen picked up a singles win in the championship, and so did the doubles tandems of Tatum Offerdahl and Chloe Hasbargen, Abby Johnson and Paige Anderson, and Darby Neis and Madi Jensen.

4. Colten Pickett nets hat trick against East Grand Forks

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Bemidji senior Colten Pickett (18) goes after the puck in the first period against East Grand Forks on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

This was a hockey game that had plenty going on during its 51 minutes of action. Before Pickett scored a single goal, Cael Knutson endured a vicious hit from behind that, despite its violence, did not draw a penalty call. This enraged the Bemidji bench, particularly head coach Pete Stahnke.

But the Lumberjacks kept their wits about them, and Pickett soon picked up his teammate. He scored his first goal unassisted to give BHS a 2-1 lead, then added another off assists from Wylee Gladen and Noah Mannausau just over a minute later.

After East Grand Forks responded with a score to cut the deficit to 3-2, Pickett added his third in the span of about five minutes to give the Jacks a 4-2 lead. They went on to win 5-2.

3. Jackie Johnson ties girls hoops scoring record

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Bemidji senior Jackie Johnson (13) dribbles with the ball during a game at Detroit Lakes on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Johnson tied the program's single-game scoring record with 40 points in the win. (Jared Rubado / Forum News Service)

Speaking of individual performances, Jackie Johnson had one of the best all year for any Lumberjack athlete. Facing Detroit Lakes in a road game, Johnson put up 40 points, tying Kayla Hirt for the best single-game total by any BHS girls basketball player. The Jacks needed nearly all of them, as they defeated the Lakers 69-62.

Johnson compiled the total with two 3-pointers, seven twos and 20 made free throws. She scored 23 points in the final 10:12 of clock time as Bemidji rallied from a 27-23 halftime deficit for the win.

2. Girls wrestling wins state championship

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Bemidji junior Elzabeth Oster, right, is declared the winner of the 145-pound third-place match in the girls individual state tournament on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Joe Brown / Forum News Service

The Bemidji girls wrestling team was a pioneer in many respects this year. The Lumberjacks were one of the first -- and only one of a few -- full girls teams in the state, which sometimes made it hard for them to find opponents during the regular season.

But their high turnout paid off come section time, when BHS advanced three wrestlers to the inaugural girls state meet. All three placed at state, and the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association named the Jacks the state champions based on the trio’s collective accomplishments.

Kylie Donat finished second in her weight class, and Jadyn Kelly and Elizabeth Oster each took third place at state.

1. Football falls to Alexandria in Section 8-5A Championship

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Bemidji junior Barrick Nelson (42) makes a 73-yard run after a botched punt snap in the second half against Alexandria in the Section 8-5A championship on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

To this day, this is a game that I have a hard time wrapping my head around. The fourth quarter alone featured 29 points scored, including three consecutive touchdowns by the Cardinals to take a stunning 43-35 lead, ultimately the margin they won by.

But I’ll also remember this game for the Herculean effort of Bemidji running back Gemini Ellis, who rushed for 287 yards and three touchdowns and gave the Lumberjacks absolutely everything he had. If you have to lose the last game of your high school career, that’s the way you want to go out.

I also won’t forget punter Barrick Nelson’s heads-up play, in which he picked up a dropped long snap and ran 73 yards to the 2-yard line, setting up BHS to take a 35-21 fourth-quarter lead. But mostly, I’ll recall just how preposterous this game was, and how many special players – and plays – contributed to the outcome.

Unfortunately for the Lumberjacks, that included Alex wide receiver Kristen Hoskins, who was simply unstoppable and willed the Cards to the comeback win with five touchdowns and a two-point conversion – plus an interception on defense for good measure.

Yes, the game ended in a loss for the Jacks, but to me, it was also the culmination of a comeback that started earlier in the season. Bemidji got off to a 1-3 start, then responded with five straight wins to reach the section championship game. Merely doing that was quite an accomplishment – and it set up the Lumberjacks for some unforgettable individual performances in the title game.

Just missed

There were plenty of other noteworthy moments in BHS sports this year that did not make this list. Here are some honorable mentions:

Related Topics: BEMIDJI LUMBERJACKS
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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