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Bemidji wrestlers prep for sections as girls break new ground with 50-win milestones

Feb. 2—BEMIDJI — An abundant number of Bemidji High School boys wrestlers have reached 50 wins in their career.

The same can't be said for Bemidji's girls team yet. But after three years as an established program, that's starting to change. Some of the Bemidji girls wrestlers who have been with the program since its inception are beginning to break new ground.

Mainstays Kylie Donat, Leah Willard, Brenalen Fredriksen-Holm and Tori Bahr have all breached the 50-win barrier, with Bahr doing it at Bemidji's home quadrangular meet on Friday. Last Saturday, Kiera Hagman joined the club, recording her 50th career win en route to placing third in the 106-pound bracket at the Belle of the Brawl Invite in Casselton, N.D.

"It's really cool," Hagman said. "I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing my teammates going through it, and I'm so happy that I finally got to get it. It makes me happy (that) all the work that I do in practice and all the work that I do before practice finally gets to go toward something."

Those efforts will also be dedicated to preparing for Bemidji to host its first girls section meet in program history. The Lumberjacks will welcome in wrestlers from dozens of schools next Friday and Saturday at the BHS Gymnasium, ushering in yet another milestone moment for the nascent girls wrestling program.

"We're super excited," said girls head coach Rance Bahr. "We're excited that we don't have to travel. We don't have to spend a night in a hotel. We're just excited for the experience. We're excited to bring that experience to our community and hopefully get some people from our community and from the high school to watch wrestling and get interested in it."

For Hagman, the section meet offers another chance to advance to the state tournament after falling just short as a third-place finisher in 2022. This time around during her junior season, she's hoping that the friendly confines of her home gym will set her up for greater success.

She'll have to do it against a field that has continually grown each season. While that means the path to state is likely harder than ever, Hagman is ready to embrace the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to (hopefully) being top two at sections, hopefully getting my first time at state and then hopefully placing at state," Hagman said. "The first year, it was crazy, because there weren't enough girls, so most of us had to wrestle boys at tournaments. And then last year and this year, (participation) has doubled, and now there are so many new girls. I'm so excited about that and the years to come. It'll just be a whole new thing."

The Bemidji boys wrestling team faced off against longtime nemesis Willmar last Friday, and the Lumberjacks could not have lost by a tighter margin. They fell 31-30 in Willmar, giving BHS an early look at the team it'll probably face in the Section 8-3A championship for the seventh straight season.

"It was a really, really competitive match," boys head coach Greg Skerik said. "It kind of showed us where we're at. We're definitely right there with them in the section, so it's fun to see that. That's why we wrestle them (ahead of sections)."

Skerik is getting close to the end of his first season in charge of the boys team, and he's started to settle in. He longer worries as much about parsing the logistics of matches and is instead able to concentrate on assisting his wrestlers with their technique.

Three months into his coaching tenure, he's more confident both in himself and in the wrestlers he's working with.

"(I'm most proud of our) overall improvement, coming together as a team," Skerik said. "There are a lot of these guys that didn't have a ton of varsity experience coming into this season, and now they're getting towards the end of it. And the improvement every day — physically, mentally, the technique, everything has been big improvements."

Both Bemidji wrestling teams competed on Friday night at the BHS gym. The girls swept a quadrangular meet, defeating Hastings 60-17, Moorhead 66-9 and Stillwater 42-26. The boys went winless in a triangular, losing 34-26 to Hastings and 31-19 to Stillwater.