BEMIDJI -- When the Minnesota State High School League announced Tuesday that volleyball would shift to the spring, concerns over scheduling conflicts immediately arose.

USA Junior Olympic volleyball, the popular club side of prep volleyball used heavily for college recruiting, typically overlaps the same March-May window that the high school season will now occupy in 2021.

In Bemidji, though, the Lumberjacks are just going to make it work.

“I’ve been counting down the weeks and months until the season,” said incoming senior Jenna Anderson. “It’s super relieving that we do get a season because, unfortunately, some seniors last year did not get to play (in the spring). It’s very exciting to get to have mine, whether it starts in 13 days or a couple months. To me, playing volleyball is playing volleyball, whatever time of the year.”

“I was definitely very thankful that we still get the opportunity to have a season,” added fellow senior Emily Wade. “It’ll be very different than it would be. … Everybody looks forward to their senior season, so I was just excited to hear the news that we still get an opportunity to play.”

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Alongside volleyball, the MSHSL also voted to move football to the spring. All other fall sports will carry on in the fall season, beginning with the first day of practice on Aug. 17. The wait will be much longer for the volleyball program, but BHS head coach Alicia Kriens said she and her staff have been preparing the team for all sorts of scenarios.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to work on with the girls: just staying flexible and staying open to all the different options,” Kriens said. “Stay positive about where we’re at, the goals we have… no matter if it’s state in November or state in May.”

Competing circuits

Incoming Bemidji High School senior Emily Wade (7) sets the ball in a 2019 matchup against Park Rapids at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Incoming Bemidji High School senior Emily Wade (7) sets the ball in a 2019 matchup against Park Rapids at the high school. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Since JO volleyball is the lifeblood of the sport, uncertainty over potential schedule conflicts are looming. The bulk of its spring 2020 season was canceled, as well, which has added to Anderson’s state of flux.

“Playing college volleyball is a super big goal for me. It’s been one of my dreams since I started,” she said. “That junior JO season is the biggest time for recruitment for us to go to college and for colleges to look at us. I never got that opportunity to be looked at by any of the schools I’ve been in contact with.”

Anderson noted that recruiters are adjusting their strategies, too, and that they may take more time than normal to look at the class of 2021. But she is hopeful that players aren’t forced to choose between playing for their high school or club teams.

“I think the JO coordinators and the JO program itself will kind of work with this season, knowing that it’ll change to the (spring),” Anderson said. “With JO, even if it’s shortened, it would still be a good couple months for us girls to get on the court and play competitively before the school season.”

Wade, who has verbally committed to Bemidji State, values the JO season but also wants to finish out her Lumberjack career.

“I could see, if they overlap, having to make decisions. But playing my senior season for the high school, I would probably opt to do that,” Wade said. “It’s the senior season that everybody looks forward to, what everybody’s worked for.”

Kriens agreed that a timeline for the JO season would come down to those governing bodies. MSHSL media specialist John Millea tweeted Tuesday that “The #mshsl board deals with #mshsl activities and always does what it thinks is best for all high school participants. Club sports, junior programs, etc., are not part of the #mshsl equation.”

“I’m not really sure what will happen with the JO season. That’s not something I’m in control of,” said Kriens, whose Lumberjacks went 13-16 last fall. “Now that the MSHSL has come out with their plan, I’m sure (the Junior Volleyball Association) and North Country (Region Volleyball) aren’t too far behind on coming up with their stance. And I don’t know if they’ll let them coincide and work together, having both seasons at the same time. I don’t know if that would be an option, or if JVA and North Country will limit their tournaments to either before or after the spring season.”

Cornered by a pandemic into a lose-lose situation, the MSHSL received a mixed bag of responses for its decisions regarding fall sports. But playing the game is most important to Bemidji, so they’ll take the win.

“I’m super humbled that I get to play and can still have my season,” Anderson said. “It’s literally made me realize that I take a lot for granted, and I’m super lucky that I’m able to play for BHS -- whether it’s in the fall or in the spring -- one last time.”