VOLLEYBALL: Bemidji battles, but early deficit too much to overcome in 3-1 loss

Bemidji will return to the court at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, for the Breakdown Tip Off Classic at Hopkins.

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Bemidji senior Jody Pemberton digs out a ball in the first set of a match against Alexandria on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at BHS. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The atmosphere was back as the Bemidji High School volleyball team battled Alexandria in a rivalry matchup Thursday night. Spectators filled the gym and a vibrant student section egged on the Lumberjacks.

Unfortunately for Bemidji, the energy -- and more importantly, the execution -- was not there from the first serve, as the Cardinals took an early 2-0 lead and held on to win 3-1 (25-17, 26-24, 16-25, 25-22).

“Overall, I'm proud of the girls. I think we did a very nice job of playing with Alex,” head coach Alicia Kriens said. “We did all the things that we talked about doing, and we knew it was going to be a really tight match, but overall I'm proud of the way they played.”

Both teams struggled with communication in their first match of the year, with players frequently bumping into each other on both dig and set attempts. Alexandria (1-0) minimized its mistakes more effectively in the first set.

Bemidji (0-1) roared back in an evenly matched second, taking its first lead on the first point. From there, it was a neck-and-neck, with both teams trading runs. Bemidji battled from a 23-21 deficit to take a 24-23 lead on a receive error by Alexandria. But the Cardinals buckled down to rip off three straight points of their own to put Bemidji in a 2-0 hole.


In the third, the Lumberjacks took an early 4-0 lead on the strength of senior Jody Pemberton’s serve and never trailed. The only tie of the set occurred at 9-9, after which Pemberton once again put BHS up big with a 6-0 run. Senior Kennedy Smith aced Alex on the final point to put the set away.

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Bemidji senior Kennedy Smith (14) celebrates after her ace clinched a third-set win during a match against Alexandria on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at BHS. (Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer)

“(We've) been a very aggressive serving team (in the past), and Jody has one of the more aggressive serves that we have on our bench,” Kriens said. “So for her to swing three, four points in a row for us is huge, especially against a team like Alex where you can be neck and neck the entire time.”

In the fourth, Alexandria established a consistent lead of four or five points, but Bemidji clawed back down the stretch. Junior Beth Bolte had multiple kills to key the Bemidji run before the Lumberjacks tied the set at 18 on a kill by Pemberton. After an Alexandria timeout, Bemidji built a 22-20 lead before the Cardinals reeled off five straight to seal the match.

Kriens said after the match that BHS must work on finishing close sets. Flipping sets two and four would have given the Lumberjacks the win against a strong opponent.

“We were so close, and at the end of set four, we played a little scared,” she said. “We did a lot of tipping versus actually swinging and playing with that confidence, so we'll be working on that. Just finishing each set and not looking forward at what's going to happen next, and just going in there with that confidence that we can just make it happen.”

The energy in the building was something that Kriens and her players took advantage of. The boisterous crowd powered the Lumberjacks in set three and provided surplus energy for the players to feed off in the tense sets that decided the match. Thursday marked the first time since the pandemic began that Bemidji fans could attend indoor events without capacity restrictions.


“It always helps to have that energy, especially when we might not have it ourself,” Kriens said. “To be able to look to that sideline, and be like, 'Hey, you know what, those people, they have the confidence in us.' Like, we can do this.”

Senior Kate Hildenbrand led BHS with 12 kills. Bolte was just behind, totaling 10 kills to go with a team-leading two blocks.

Bemidji will return to the court at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, for the Breakdown Tip Off Classic at Hopkins.

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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