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Lumberjack athletes weather spring storms, prepare for greener pastures

It’s not what any athlete envisions when they think of spring sports. But for now, it’s reality for those at Bemidji High School as they soldier on through unseasonably – and unreasonably – cool April temperatures and snowy storms.

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Bemidji High School freshman Alec Newby practices his swing during a BHS golf team practice on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Batting practice and bullpens in the gym. Film study in a social studies classroom. Chipping practice at the ice rink.

It’s not what any athlete envisions when they think of spring sports. But for now, it’s reality for those at Bemidji High School as they soldier on through unseasonably – and unreasonably – cool April temperatures and snowy storms.

“They're champing at the bit to get outside,” boys golf head coach Seth Knudson said. “They want to get outside.”

But on a wintry Wednesday, with snow and slush coating everything in sight, the BHS golf teams were on the ice – or mats – at the Bemidji Community Arena, practicing chipping into a net that spanned nearly the length of the rink.

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Members of the Bemidji High School golf teams practice their swings during a team practice on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“With this much open space, it makes it a little easier,” said girls golf head coach Tina Offerdahl. “At this point, we really haven't had to make too many adjustments. We used this space four years ago for the first time when they bought this netting here.”

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At Bemidji Middle School, the boys tennis team studied instructional videos and watched a feature on eight-time major champion Jimmy Connors’ miraculous run through the 1991 U.S. Open at age 39. They’d rather be practicing on the BHS courts, but since that hasn’t been an option, head coach Kyle Fodness has mixed it up.

“It makes it really easy when the guys have a great attitude,” Fodness said. “Because with this group, you could say, ‘Hey guys, we're going to have a snowball fight to work on your serves,’ and they'd come in with a good attitude and go, ‘OK, we can get as much out of this as we can.’”

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Kyle Fodness, Bemidji High School boys tennis head coach, talks to the team after watching film during a practice on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Middle School.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

In lieu of honing their skills on the high school courts, some tennis players have practiced at the indoor courts at Bemidji State’s Gillett Wellness Center – and they’d give any rooster a run for its money with their start time.

“We usually go three to four times during the week as a team from 6 a.m. to 7:30,” senior John McNallan said. “And then I usually like to hit about two to three times with a lot of my varsity teammates, hit around on the courts (at other times).”

The Lumberjack softball, baseball and track and field teams were confined to the gyms at BHS. Batting cages have been set up in the auxiliary gym, while bullpens, catch and sprinting practice all occur under one roof.

“We haven't been stuck inside this long for quite a while,” said assistant softball coach Kristin Weidemann. “I'd say this is one of the longer years for sure.”

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A Bemidji High School softball player practices pitching during a team practice on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Cloudy skies, sunny attitudes

A common denominator with all the stranded teams was a general maintenance of positive attitudes despite the challenges of the long winter. It’s also been a big help if the team can finally get outside for even a single competition.

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The girls golf team kicked off its spring season by competing in the Monticello Invite on April 11, with senior Tatum Offerdahl claiming the top spot in the individual field.

“It was so nice,” coach Offerdahl said. “I wish I could have taken everyone just to give them the opportunity to be outside and hitting different clubs. To get out their driver and fairway woods and putting on real greens, it was a good feeling. And it was nice weather, so that was a bonus.”

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Bemidji High School junior Sidney Bignall putts during a BHS golf team practice on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Community Arena.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The tennis team faced its first competition of the year on April 19, matching up with Brainerd and Little Falls in a triangular held at Little Falls, then sweeping a triangular in St. Cloud on April 21.

“It was our first time getting outside (April 19), so it was very different,” McNallan said. “The wind changed our game a little bit.”

The fortunes are slowly starting to change – softball played a doubleheader at Sartell-St. Stephen on April 21, and track and field has completed four meets. Now, perhaps the biggest challenge ahead will be finding a spot on the calendar to reschedule all the postponed events.

“It becomes very difficult to reschedule from here on out because we've already pushed so many dates,” BHS activities director Troy Hendricks said. “You feel bad for these kids.”

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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