Oct. 17—ELK RIVER — Fresh off some playoff magic, the seventh-seeded Bemidji High School girls soccer team ran out of luck in the Section 8-3A semifinals.
The No. 7-seeded Lumberjacks fell short at No. 3 Elk River, conceding one goal in the first half and two in the second to drop the decision 3-1.
The Elks (10-5-3) dominated possession and chances in the first half, but Lumberjacks goalkeeper Kiera Nelson stopped several shots to keep the game scoreless for the first 25 minutes. Eventually, though, the strain on the Jacks' back line was too much, as Ava Johnson scored her 13th goal of the year with a shot over Nelson in the 28th minute.
"I think we played against something that we hadn't yet this season," head coach Logan Larsen said on KBUN after the game. "They stretched us out, they used their backline well to possess, and unfortunately, we didn't maintain our shape. We pressed into that, and then they cut through the middle."
Elk River continued to press BHS (8-7-2) in the second half, punching in another goal three minutes into the period off the foot of Britta DeMar. The Elks added a third 20 minutes later, as Johnson punched in her second to give the home team a 3-0 lead.
"I would say we didn't play our brand," Larsen said. "Not only did we not quite respond to their style of play, but we didn't play the same game we did Wednesday night (against Brainerd). There's nerves, there's things like that. It's tough that way."
But the Jacks refused to give in, generating some quality chances down the stretch. It paid off when Teriana Melcher slipped a ball past the goal line with three minutes remaining to break the shutout and give Bemidji a joyful moment in the closing moments.
The Lumberjacks graduate seniors Nile Fayette, Isabel Grospe, Elle Bush, Massy Toward, Kate Martin, Josie Aitken, Anna Wren, Sydney Breyen, Olivia Blomberg, Miah Stone, Addy Kelly, Lauren Berg and Melcher from the program. The 13-member class of 2022 is well regarded both on and off the pitch and was commended by its head coach after the clock struck zero on Bemidji's final game of the year.
"This is the most selfless group I've probably coached," Larsen said. "And odds are I've said that before, but this (group) tops it. I think they're all really out there for each other. And normally, there's always frustration if a player doesn't get to battle for their team as much as they want. And rightly so, they want to contribute.
"... But they were still cheering at the end; no matter who's on the field, they're still cheering. So this kind of is the best group in terms of trying to meet that objective of being a family."
The family had its season come to an end Saturday, but they finished with aplomb and earned an upset win over No. 2 Brainerd to reach the semifinal that will go down in BHS history.
"This is the first season in (Class) 3A, so it was daunting from the get-go," Larsen told the Pioneer. "We faced fierce competition. In the end, despite the bumps in sections, we showed a lot of heart. Section play maybe wore us down, but they still had it at the end. This is really the only season I can really remember feeling heartbroken at the end of it."
No. 3 Elk River 3, No. 7 Bemidji 1
BHS 0 1 — 1
ER 1 2 — 3
First half — 1, ER GOAL, A. Johnson (Gregory), 28'.
Second half — 2, ER GOAL, DeMar (A. Johnson), 43'; 3, ER GOAL, A. Johnson (Hidde), 63'; 4, BHS GOAL, Melcher (Berg), 77'.
Saves — Nelson (BHS) 8, Bernardson (ER) 2.