ST. CLOUD -- For the first time in generations, the Bemidji High School boys tennis team is king.
The Lumberjacks defeated Becker 4-3 and Alexandria 5-2 in the Section 8AA Team Tournament in Sartell and St. Cloud on Wednesday, giving BHS its first state tournament berth in 40-plus years.
“There have been a lot of great teams and great players in the program,” Bemidji head coach Kyle Fodness said. “Sometimes we just don’t have an opportunity to do this. So when you have that opportunity, you try to win it for everybody.”
The victory couldn’t have come at a more fitting time, either. Fodness’ father, Mark, who coached the team as recently as 2020, died in November before Kyle succeeded him as head coach. Undoubtedly, Mark was on the minds of many fans in blue on Wednesday.
“You always get a little extra boost when you’re playing for someone other than yourself,” said Kyle, who played for this very program while his father was coaching. “It sounds cliche, but I think everyone knew we were playing for a little bit more. We want to win, but we have a little extra juice.”
The program’s last known region championship came in 1973 and, until last summer, the Jacks had zero known titles. The Pioneer has since rediscovered three -- 1967, 1970 and 1973 -- through newspaper archives. There may even be more, as the program’s history prior to 1980 has largely been lost to history.
But this one will be well documented.
“It’s not just an accomplishment for one group of people, it’s a culmination,” Fodness said. “You look at last year’s group of seniors, and I think it’d be very fair to say that the boys were playing for people who maybe missed an opportunity last year.”
The victory is redemptive for a BHS team that has been stonewalled by Alexandria in recent years. The Cardinals overcame a 3-1 deficit in the 2019 section championship to steal a 4-3 win, and Alex also handed Bemidji two of its three losses during the regular season this year.
A dream start against the North’s top-seeded Cardinals got the Lumberjacks off on the right foot in the championship. BHS, the No. 2 seed in the North, won all seven of the opening sets, making victory feel like it was finally within reach.
Filippo Buffo ultimately won 6-4, 6-3 at the top spot, Michael Dickinson won 6-3, 6-2 at second singles and Noah Johnson won 7-6, 6-4 at third singles to put Bemidji on the cusp of victory.
A 6-4, 7-5 win from Aidan Larson and Jack McNallan at third doubles later clinched the championship and brought on the celebration.
“They grabbed their closest teammates and started high-fiving and hugging,” Fodness said. “It wasn’t a group that rushed the courts, but in some ways, that’s almost better because you just grab whatever teammate’s closest to you. You look at each other and go, ‘Oh my gosh, we did it. We did it!’”
Against Becker, a doubles sweep propelled the Lumberjacks to the upset. Dickinson and Logan Jensen won 7-5, 6-4 at the top spot, while Casey Rupp and John McNallan grinded out a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 win at No. 2. Max Harris and Jack McNallan also prevailed 6-4, 7-5 at third doubles.
Buffo also won at No. 1 singles, and all that added up to an upset win over the South subsection’s No. 1 seed.
“You want to get a point everywhere, but they knew we had to get their points,” Fodness said of the doubles tandems. “Everybody who knew, ‘We have to get your point,’ they went out and got it.”
The Class AA state tournament will take place June 8-9 at Prior Lake High School, with action beginning at 8 a.m. each day.
BHS will also take part in the Section 8AA Individual Tournament at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 3, in Sartell. Buffo and Johnson will compete in the singles tournament, while Dickinson and Jensen will team up in doubles.
“The boys really played like underdogs out here,” Fodness said. “If they were an underdog, like we probably were in our two matches today, they really embraced that mentality. And that’s been the mentality of our previous coach.”
Bemidji 4, Becker 3
No. 1: Buffo (BEM) def. Z. Bengtson, 6-4, 7-5
No. 2: R. Bengtson (BKR) def. Johnson, default
No. 3: Bordson (BKR) def. Cerven, 6-3, 6-1
No. 4: Nuest (BKR) def. Fuhrman, 6-2, 6-1
No. 1: Dickinson/Jensen (BEM) def. Scheideman/Peterson, 7-5, 6-4
No. 2: Jo. McNallan/Rupp (BEM) def. Hiltner/Brown, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
No. 3: Ja. McNallan/Harris (BEM) def. Kraemer/Gruber, 6-4, 7-5
Bemidji 5, Alexandria 2
No. 1: Buffo (BHS) def. Partington, 6-4, 6-3
No. 2: Dickinson (BHS) def. Schabel, 6-3, 6-2
No. 3: Johnson (BHS) def. Jost, 7-6, 6-4
No. 4: Jensen (BHS) def. Gilbertson, 6-2, 6-1
No. 1: Lueck/Mulder (ALX) def. Jo. McNallan/Rupp, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
No. 2: Wegner/Nelson (ALX) def. Harris/Fuhrman, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0
No. 3: Larson/Ja. McNallan (BHS) def. Jabas/Parker, 6-4, 7-5