BEMIDJI -- After losing out on its chance for a sweep, the Bemidji High School volleyball team came out tough in a decisive and mighty dominant fourth set Thursday night.

“It kind of comes down to having a lot of grit,” BHS head coach Alicia Kriens said. “Having that mental toughness of, ‘Do you want the fourth set, and how bad do you want it? What are you willing to do?’”

The Lumberjacks played like they meant it against St. Cloud Tech, storming ahead 18-2 to all but decide the final outcome. It wasn’t long until they had the 3-1 (29-27, 25-10, 18-25, 25-9) win wrapped up inside the BHS Gymnasium.

“We had really good focus,” Kriens said. “Third set, we kind of lost our serve receive and lost our talking a little bit. Fourth set, (we) really focused back in and did a really nice job of finishing out the match.”

The socially distanced crowd gathered six feet apart for Bemidji’s home opener. They witnessed a neck-and-neck first set, where the Jacks (1-1) nearly held the lead from start to finish. The Tigers (0-3) ultimately took their first advantage at 24-23, but it was just the first of two set points that BHS fought off before a 29-27 victory.

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In the second set, however, the dramatics didn’t last nearly as long. Tied at 9-9, Bemidji reeled off a closing 16-1 run in dominant fashion. Allison Lillquist, Kennedy Smith and Beth Bolte led the offensive surge -- with Emily Wade facilitating -- as the Jacks clinched a no-doubter of a 25-10 win.

Bemidji junior Kennedy Smith (14) hits from the right side in the home opener against St. Cloud Tech on Thursday at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji junior Kennedy Smith (14) hits from the right side in the home opener against St. Cloud Tech on Thursday at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Kriens said that she wasn’t only pleased that her team won the first two sets, but that they showed an ability to win in such different fashions.

“I was really happy with that,” she said. “I’m not a person to really take a timeout on game point. I like to see my girls battle through it. … In that first set, it was, ‘Who’s going to battle? Who wants it more?’ I wanted to see that our girls wanted it more. They proved that. In the second set, we came out and did our job.”

A different team came out for the third set, as unforced errors piled up and allowed Tech to a 7-1 head start. The difference grew to 12-4 on three straight aces from Grace Ciarrochi, but BHS mounted a comeback and led 16-14 on back-to-back Wade aces.

The Tigers stormed off from there, though. Errors on the receive and the attack proved to be too much on Bemidji’s plate, and St. Cloud Tech closed at 25-18 -- claiming their first set win in the team’s past nine matches, dating back to last season.

“The third set, we thought we were going to get it, and we were a little bit lax compared to how we had been,” Kriens said.

But the Lumberjacks didn’t leave anything to chance in the fourth. After an 8-1 start -- capped by a pair of Kate Hildenbrand aces -- BHS extended their edge to 18-2 in an avalanche of offense. Lillquist, Smith and Taylor Waukazo took over and overwhelmed the opposition to put Bemidji on the brink of victory.

Soon thereafter, a 25-9 victory was in hand, as was the 3-1 decision on the night.

“You’re in control of everything you’re doing, so do the little things,” Kriens said. “I think that’s all it took in game four. We just needed to focus back in.”

Lillquist finished with 14 kills on a .355 hitting percentage, while Beth Bolte had a team-high 20 kills alongside 18 from Smith. Wade finished with 59 set assists, and Smith also racked up seven aces. Defensively, Jenna Anderson produced 44 digs, while Hildenbrand recorded three blocks at the net.

Bemidji returns to the floor at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, for a road game at Willmar.