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VOLLEYBALL: Rogers sweeps scrappy Bemidji bunch to end Jacks’ playoff run

The sixth-seeded Lumberjacks were served a more bitter offering Tuesday against second-seeded Rogers, as the Royals, who had only dropped 13 sets all year on the way to a sterling 26-4 record, were simply too good for too long.

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Bemidji Lumberjacks

ROGERS -- It was a sweet victory to reach the Section 8-4A semifinal for the Bemidji High School volleyball team, one that fittingly earned its own celebratory ice cream trip after the match.

But the sixth-seeded Lumberjacks were served a more bitter offering Tuesday against second-seeded Rogers. The Royals, who had only dropped 13 sets all year on the way to a sterling 26-4 record, were simply too good for too long.

BHS put up a valiant fight, especially in the third set, but the overpowering jump serves and kills of the Metro power were too much, as it swept Bemidji out of the playoffs (25-9, 25-16, 25-22).

“It was a rough deal,” head coach Alicia Kriens said. “But we knew it was going to be tough going in.”

Much like they did in their elite service game, the Royals jumped out to a 10-1 lead in a first set that was never in doubt. The Lumberjacks were more competitive in the second set, but Rogers once again buried them early with a 9-1 lead. Despite slicing that deficit to 15-10, the Jacks never got within five points again.

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“It's hard to watch knowing what they're capable of, and watch them dip back down to where we were playing when we first saw Rogers (earlier in the season),” Kriens said.

The third set proved to be their shining moment. Buoyed by winning the first point, Bemidji (14-14) took its own large leads, including 9-3 and 18-9 advantages. But the Royals roared right back, scoring seven straight to cut the deficit from 19-11 to 19-18. Although BHS held a lead as late as 21-20, Rogers reclaimed the advantage with a 5-1 run to net the set, the match and a spot in the section championship.

“We made them take two timeouts (in the third set), which has never happened for them before,” Kriens said. “I talked to their coach at the end, and he was like, ‘You guys were making me nervous.’ Just really proud of the way that they ended (the match).”

Being a threat to teams like Rogers, as well as beating a team like Sartell-St. Stephen, has given the Lumberjacks a degree of notoriety among other teams in the state. This exemplifies an accomplishment Kriens hoped to see from her players this season: the scaling of roadblocks that prevented them from competing their best against top programs.

“We overcame a lot of mental obstacles this year,” Kriens said. “This stigma of, for example, ‘Moorhead's really good,’ and ‘Brainerd's really good.’ And they are good teams, but we can be just as good. We kept putting ourselves below these teams before.

“And I think we overcame a lot of that this year. We're jumping over that hurdle and being really confident in the way that we play, and OK with our game, playing our game against other teams.”

Bemidji graduates seniors Allie Lillquist, Lynsy Baumgart, Hattie Kurtzweg, Kate Hildenbrand, Jody Pemberton and Kennedy Smith from the program this year. The leadership of that group, Kriens’ first four-year players as head coach, has buoyed the BHS program to an elevated stature in the world of Minnesota high school volleyball.

“They're my first group as the head coach, and I think there's a special thing that happens with your first group that you have,” Kriens said. And you build the kind of program you want kind of on their backs.

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“And they have led this team every year in just making the kind of program that I was seeing for us.”

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
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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