On Tuesdays and Thursdays, KBUN Sportsradio presents a “Lumberjack Throwback”, as we recall a memorable Bemidji High School game from recent years through archived highlights and interviews. Bemidji girls soccer’s Section championship from 2017 was a classic in every sense…
Entering the 2017 season, the Lumberjacks had not won a Section title in girls soccer since 2012 when they maneuvered through Section 8A to win a thrilling 3-2 final against East Grand Forks after topping Sartell-St. Stephen 4-3 in OT in the semifinals. After four seasons of tough competition in Class AA, the Jacks were now back in Class A and targeting a deep run through the section with an experienced group of seniors to lead the charge.
After each had struggled with injuries the previous two years, Annah Schussman and Isabelle Morin were both healthy and firing up front, tallying 12 and 16 goals respectively in the regular season with Morin also providing a team-best 12 assists. Kelly Christopher had also navigated injuries to supply 10 assists off the wing. Seniors Jacie Lalli and Sydney Butler both returned in defense, flanking new sophomore varsity contributors Jenna Jones and Katie Alto in the middle. And after returning to the soccer field and going through a season of growth, junior goalkeeper Allison Beard was in her best form of the season as the playoffs arrived.
Cardiac results were in less frequent supply compared to the prior year, as Bemidji stormed to a 7-1 start that was only marred by a 2-1 OT loss at home to new Section foe East Grand Forks. But the Lumberjacks stumbled going into the playoffs, losing four out of seven–though three of them came against quality Class AA competition. Goals were drying up though, as the team scored just 10 during that span of games.
After easing past Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in the opening round of the 8A playoffs, the Jacks fought off a spirited Detroit Lakes side for a 3-0 quarterfinal win. As the second seed in 8A in the North, they were forced to travel to South #1 Sartell-St. Stephen for the semifinal, where a wonder goal from Alto in the second half and a rock-solid defensive performance took Bemidji to a 1-0 win and the final.
In their path stood undefeated and undaunted East Grand Forks. The Green Wave had compiled an 18-0 record to this point, which included a 5-2 win at home against Bemidji in the teams’ second meeting. Set pieces had played a pivotal role in the outcome, with EGF scoring four of its goals on such plays. Armed with a fast set of forwards, good tackling defenders, and a hockey line-change style of substituting on almost every stoppage, the Green Wave had captured the North’s top seed and were set on getting one more win over the Lumberjacks to advance to State.
The stage was set for a showdown in the championship, which was held on Oct. 19, 2017 at St. Cloud State’s massive Husky Stadium. This final was also the nightcap of a doubleheader with the Section 8A boys championship–a 3-0 win for Bemidji over St. Cloud Cathedral. With the boys booking a ticket to State for the second-straight year, the girls hoped to do likewise.
Aggression right from the kickoff gave the Green Wave the game’s first chance, almost converting off a corner kick in the opening minutes.
With early pressure mounting, East Grand took the lead in just the sixth minute, once again on a play stemming from a corner kick. After only a partial clearance of the initial corner by the Jacks, Nicole Schlenk fired a lofted shot back in from the corner of the 18-yard box that grazed off the hands of Beard and found the net.
The response was a sluggish one from the Lumberjacks, who created very few chances the rest of the way in the first half and remained down a goal at the break with only two shots on goal. An increased emphasis on putting pressure on across the field immediately created havoc in the second half, with the Green Wave scrambling to clear.
As the final 20 minutes arrived, Bemidji was still not generating chances frequently. The midfield of juniors Harper Toward, Alyse Stone, and Emma Dean had battled throughout the evening with the swarming nature of the Green Wave’s midfield play, but time on the ball was scarce.
An seemingly innocuous opportunity presented itself in the 68th minute on a foul from EGF in the middle of the field, producing a free kick for Bemidji. The distance to goal made it seem unlikely that a shot would be in the works, as it stood a good 40 yards from goal just off center. Schussman–somewhat surprisingly–was the player who took on the responsibility of the set piece, as it seemed she would simply try to pump a good cross into the area for either a header or a rebound off a clearance.
However, she caught everybody in the stadium by surprise with what followed.
The miraculous strike suddenly leveled the match and changed the entire complexion of the last 10 minutes. Though desperation was starting to kick in prior to the goal, suddenly the Lumberjacks were flying with newfound energy across the field. Kinley Prestegard and Lindsey Hildenbrand each started to stretch the field on the wings with fresh legs off the bench, with the latter almost scoring the winner just minutes after Schussman had leveled the match.
The end of regulation arrived with the match still level at one, but after East Grand had controlled play with the lead, Bemidji had suddenly swing the game into a back-and-forth tilt with the equalizer. The first of two 10-minute, Golden Goal overtime periods opened with the game still stretched, which allowed the Lumberjacks to deliver the match-winning blow.
A clearance from the edge of the Bemidji area fell to Toward in the middle of the field–a player who had been injured in the first meeting between the two teams and missed several games after. She initiated the counterattack with a splitting ball down the right flank, finding the lightning-quick Christopher making a run. In the center, Morin was holding off the recovering defenders and simply needed a good cross to have a chance to score the winner.
She got it.
Celebrations of joy commenced on the field, as the Bemidji girls completed a 2-1 OT comeback win over East Grand Forks to capture their first section title since 2012 and make it a double championship night with the boys program. Morin’s goal was her 17th and final goal of an incredible senior season, fittingly assisted by fellow senior Christopher’s 11th assist of the year.
The Lumberjacks concluded their 14-6 season with a 3-0 loss to future state champions Mahtomedi at Prior Lake in the opening round of the Class A state tournament.
Morin (Bemidji State) and Schussman (Wisconsin-Superior) have continued on to play two years of college soccer to this point, with Toward (Minnesota Morris) and Stone (Southwest Minnesota State) each playing at the next level after the following year and still several more players from the team heading into the college ranks next season.
The title-win was just the start, as it was the first of what has become three-straight Section 8A crowns for Bemidji girls soccer. Nobody who saw it–or heard it–could ever forget the first one of the bunch.
Postgame interview with head coach Logan Larsen:
Postgame interview with senior Isabelle Morin:
Postgame interview with senior Annah Schussman:
COMING THURSDAY: How about another overtime Section title victory?