BEMIDJI -- When the captains for the Bemidji High School girls soccer team walked up to claim the Section 8A championship trophy last week in Brainerd, Sam Hansen didn’t step forward as expected.
Instead, she was in the hospital.
“It was not something I enjoyed at all,” Hansen said of missing the game’s conclusion. “The doctor kept trying to talk to me, and I had my dad listening to the game. I would (continually) ask him for updates. … My mom was texting someone listening to the game, and I was getting updates through her, as well.”
The senior midfielder missed the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Sauk Rapids-Rice, which marked the third consecutive section championship for BHS. Hansen was treated for a sharp pain in her side, diagnosed as a cyst, which progressively worsened in warmups and the first half.
But as the post-game celebration rocked on, the Lumberjacks gathered around a phone to include Hansen, who was calling via FaceTime.
“The players making sure they stayed connected with Sam was a message about their priorities,” Bemidji head coach Logan Larsen said. “It wasn’t about their own little moment of glory with the medal. It was a team victory.”
Hansen started the game but didn’t return after halftime. Early in the second half, she was quietly piggy-backed off the bench by Anna Garrigan, taken to the hospital and away from her team.
“I definitely was sitting there saying, ‘No, I don’t want to go,’” Hansen said. “And my mom’s like, ‘Sam, we need to go. We need to go in and check it out.’ That’s I think why Anna got up to carry me. She knew that I probably wouldn’t just walk out alone.”
But the worthwhile reunion came not long after.
“Most of us didn’t even know she had left,” said senior forward Emma Dean. “Halle (Solien) had said, ‘Say hi to Sam.’ And we’re like, ‘Sam who?’ I was really happy that we got to FaceTime her.”
Hansen expects to be ready in time to play in Bemidji’s Class A state tournament opener against Mahtomedi. It’ll be the Jacks’ third straight state quarterfinal against the Zephyrs.
“The last few years, I think we’ve come out pretty scared,” Hansen said. “We’re on the big stage, and I think that kind of got to us then. But this year, we know who we’re facing, we know their style of play, we know what we need to do and who we need to shut down.
“This year, the deer-in-headlights look is gone. We’re ready to come out hard.”
A familiar foe
BHS lost 6-0 to Mahtomedi in last year’s state opener. In 2017, it was a 3-0 loss. But with film and familiarity at its disposal, unseeded Bemidji (13-5-1) hopes the third meeting will be different.
“Statistically, it’s always tougher the third time you play someone,” Larsen said. “We have video on them, we can see some style. We know what to expect. … We know we’re going to have to play the best game we’ve probably ever played and fight harder than we ever have.”
The top-seeded Zephyrs (13-2-2) have won the past two Class A state championships, outscoring state opponents 17-4 over that stretch. To return to state this year, Mahtomedi defeated favored Hill-Murray in penalty kicks to win the Section 4A championship in a battle of the state’s top-two ranked teams.
“We’ve been pushing each other, so we’re going to go into this game super confident,” Dean said. “Even though they’re a good team, and we lost to them the past few years, I think it gives us more confidence because we know how they’re going to play, and we’ve been able to prepare.”
The Lumberjack attack starts with Lindsey Hildenbrand, who has a team-high 17 goals and shares the team-lead of nine assists with Dean. Lexi Paquette hit double-digit goals with her game-winning strike in the section championship, and in net, Abby Kieson owns a 1.0 goals against average this season.
BHS believes it has the pieces to contend.
“We just have to step in with a lot more confidence,” Larsen said. “Last year, we came out tentative and we paid for it. I think we have to define the game within the first 10 minutes, the pace we’re going to play.”
The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, from Husky Stadium at St. Cloud State. And if there’s another trophy presentation to be had this year, Hansen won’t be far away. The section final was proof of that.
“It’s my senior year, and that was pretty important for me to be there,” she said. “Obviously it wasn’t the same because I wasn’t up there with my team receiving (the trophy)… but it was still awesome to be connected with them in that way.”