BEMIDJI -- With each of its last two wins, the Bemidji High School boys soccer team has made history. Never before had the Lumberjacks won a state tournament game despite winning the Section 8A title in each of the last two seasons.
This year, though, they’ve won their quarterfinal and semifinal games and now find themselves a game away from the ultimate goal: a state title.
Unseeded Bemidji defeated No. 3 Mahtomedi in the state opener, No. 2 Academy of Holy Angels in the semis, and now, fittingly, is set to take on the No. 1 seed in The Blake School at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“They’re obviously skilled,” BHS head coach Rick Toward said. “They’re very fluid with the ball. It moves very well across the field. They have a solid midfield. They have some pretty good team speed. They have a nice striker who is able to get up and down the field well and into space. We know that that level of play is going to be up at the top like it was before, or what it has been for the last couple games, so we expect a hard-fought contest.”
A Bemidji win would secure BHS’s first ever fall sports state championship. The last team to earn any title was the girls golf team in 2004. Most recently, the football team fell 17-10 to Rocori in the Class 4A state title game in 2011 and the baseball team fell 1-0 to Eastview in the 2012 state championship.
The state titles BHS has secured all-time include boys basketball in 1936, 1948 and 1974 (lost overall state title to single-A Melrose); boys golf in 1956, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1997; girls golf in 2004; and baseball in 1973.
The soccer team took off for the Twin Cities area Thursday afternoon. After a stop in St. Cloud for dinner, they made their way to Breck High School for one last practice as a group.
“Pretty tactical stuff that we’ll be working on, kind of cleaning up a few little things that we saw in the last game,” Toward said. “But by this point in time, you kind of are who you are as a team, so there won’t be a tremendous amount of adjustments.”
After ending Mahtomedi’s season with a 16-3 record and handing Holy Angels its first loss of the year, Toward doesn’t expect Blake (18-1-2) to be on a much higher level than the rest.
“I think there’s not a lot of difference between any of the teams in the tournament, to be honest with you, in terms of how skilled and talented (they are), but clearly there is a difference in the way they play,” he said. “Like in many sports, matchups matter. We matched up well against Holy Angels in the second half, and we were able to take advantage of a few things. So it’ll depend on how we match up with Blake. What is it that they bring to the table that we haven’t seen yet, and what do we bring to the table that they haven’t seen yet? That matchup will be key.”
Whether the Lumberjacks take home the first-place trophy or the second-place trophy, they have already logged the most successful season their program has seen. But while they’re faced with the opportunity that they may never get again, Toward said they’ll do their best to capitalize.
“For many of these kids, this is their third state tournament, and the novelty of getting here is gone,” he said. “We got there twice and didn’t advance, and we beat Mahtomedi – I think that was the step that we wanted to make. And then to go on and beat Holy Angels to get to that final, well now, we may never get here again with this group of boys. So you have to take advantage. You have to be willing to do everything. You have to lay it out on the line. The season ends tomorrow, period.”
If you go
Who: Bemidji vs. Blake
What: Class A state championship
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
When: 12:30 p.m. today
Radio: Lumberjack Radio Network/104.5 FM
Web: Prep Spotlight.tv